Who is Debbie Brill?

I guess you could say I was surprised.

I’ve been interested in the high jump ever since high school, which in my case was 1957-1960. I stunk at high jump, was not good enough for the track team, and never cleared much more than five feet.

But the event’s unambiguous confrontation with gravity always fascinated me.

What never occurred to me back then – and this is important – was to try to innovate and create some new method or technique of jumping, something that would get my jumps higher.

Oddly enough – and even though decades have passed since – I still remember feeling that the roll or straddle techniques in vogue at the time didn’t make best use of the upward force generated by the take-off leg.

And yet, and as I said, I never tried anything different.

That lack of creativity and gumption on my part made it all the more striking when, in 1968, Oregon State’s Dick Fosbury burst upon the high jump scene at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games with something spectacular.     

Fosbury won the gold medal, at 7’4¼”, with an entirely new – and revolutionary – way of jumping. He cleared the bar, amazingly, on his back, a technique formerly almost unheard of.

His method soon after became known as the “Fosbury Flop” and, in time, it took over the sport.

Well, why didn’t I think of that?!

I was thinking about the high jump again more recently, in anticipation of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio.

Where was the high jump world record nowadays, anyway?

Just a little digging on the web revealed that the current record just slightly exceeds 8’.  It’s held by a Cuban with the same surname as one of our U.S. Supreme Court justices – one Javier Sotomayor.

No less interesting was that Sotomayor set his record all the way back in July of 1993. This makes his record almost a quarter-century old, and the longest-standing record in high jump since sanctioned records began in 1912.

Had high jump reached a plateau, a kind of physical limit for the human body? Or was there another breakthrough coming along one of these days?

But there was an even bigger surprise in store for me.

My new look at high jump led me to a Canadian girl named Debbie Brill, a name I don’t recall ever hearing before.

One website I looked at, moreover, showed a teenage Debbie Brill using a backward high jump method in 1966, in British Columbia, not unlike Fosbury’s (run video, above, if you’d care to see it).

If Fosbury’s innovation was breathtakingly amazing, then here was an even more astonishing case of independent and simultaneous innovation by two youngsters in different parts of northwestern North America.

Brill went on to become the first female in North America to clear 6’. Her ultimate personal best was 6’6” in 1984.  She became a decorated and revered athlete.  Especially in Canada.  In Canada, the method whose invention she shared with Fosbury became known as the “Brill Bend.”

What little I could learn about Debbie Brill on the web fascinated me. And so I soon ordered her book, titled Jump, on Amazon.

I’m waiting for it to come in the mail.

Debbie Brill! Who knew?


Almost as good as Darwin and Wallace, Newton and Leibniz, or Lavoisier and Priestley.

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