Election Central

Now I know why one of the greatest athletes ever follows me on Twitter

Dick Fosbury, the inventor of the high-jump technique that made him an Olympic champion and changed the sport forever, is running for the Idaho House in the Magic Valley.

Kimberlee Kruesi of The Twin Falls Times-News broke the news on her blog today, including a nice link to a YouTube video of Fosbury jumping in Mexico City, where he won gold in 1968.

Kruesi’s report answers a question that’s been gnawing at me since I noticed the other day that Fosbury was following my Twitter account @IDS_politics. He’s following the Legislature.

Fosbury is running as a Democrat in District 26 against freshman Republican Rep. Steve Miller of Fairfield. The district includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties. Fosbury moved to Ketchum in 1977 and is a retired engineer and member of the Blaine County Planning & Zoning Commission.

Miller is a rancher and farmer who grows organic wheat. He’s one of the nicest folks in the Statehouse and looks like a film star in his cream-colored cowboy hat. He’s a true gentleman and a skilled candidate who ran an excellent race in 2012 to win the seat opened by the retirement of former House Democratic Leader Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum.

But as a track fan since that 1968 Olympics, I must confess that the prospect of meeting Fosbury in the halls of the Capitol is almost as thrilling as the notion that Willie Mays would move to Idaho and get elected to the Legislature.

Fosbury brings back my 10-year-old self, watching a black-and-white TV in Cupertino, Calif., flickering from Mexico City with images of some of the greatest moments in sport. Bob Beamon’s space-walking long jump; Al Oerter’s fourth gold in the discus; Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand in the 200 meters, fists raised in a civil rights shout-out.

And Fosbury, of course, whose unconventional courage was revolutionary. When he began experimenting with what’s become known as the “Fosbury Flop” as a high school sophomore in Medford, Ore., people said he’d break his neck.

In 1984, I attended the Los Angeles Olympics, watching Carl Lewis win four golds, Daley Thompson set a decathlon record, Joan Benoit capture the first women’s marathon, Edwin Moses dominate the 400 hurdles and Seb Coe the 1,500. It was the best week of my life and the memory makes me weepy.

In 2008 and 2012, I attended the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. Two more weeks of bliss. In 2012, I was 20 feet away as Ashton Eaton got coached up on the pole vault, eventually getting a mark that helped him set a world record in the decathlon. Eaton won Olympic gold. I also had a brief meeting with Beamon. (I was so nervous, I botched the photo).


Winning my everlasting gratitude, both of my kids ran track. My son, Nick, competed at Hayward Field as a member of YMCA Team Idaho, winning the hurdles and medaling in several other events. He qualified for the national Junior Olympics, too, which got me a trip to Baltimore and a visit to nearby Gettysburg, Pa.

My daughter, Challis, attended Oregon from 2010-13, before transferring this month to John Cabot University in Rome. As a sophomore, she was part of Borah High’s state championship in 2008, reaching the 100 hurdle final. As a junior and senior she medaled four times at state. Her best was a second place in the 300 hurdles, finishing behind Centennial High’s Sofia Huerta, now one of the nation’s finest soccer players who led my alma mater, Santa Clara University, to a No. 7 national ranking last fall.

The kids have moved on from competitive sports and are busy with college and growing up, but watching them deepened my affection for the purity of track. Seeing Challis cross the line just behind Huerta is a moment I’ll replay on my deathbed.

Please forgive my sentimentality; I just can’t help it.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics