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High jump pioneer to serve as Commonwealth Games speaker

Dick Fosbury was announced as the Olympic speaker at the July 22 Opening Ceremonies of the Virginia Commonwealth Games.
Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury.

With the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Virginia Commonwealth Games at Liberty University just 37 days away, Virginia Amateur Sports held a press conference Wednesday afternoon in the Williams Stadium Club Pavilion to announce 1968 Summer Olympics gold medalist Dick Fosbury as the Olympic speaker for the July 22 event.

Those ceremonies, set for 7 p.m. in Liberty’s Vines Center, will kick off the July 22-24 main events weekend, when the majority of the Commonwealth Games’ 65 distinct sporting events will take place on and around campus, attracting thousands of athletes to Lynchburg.

Fosbury continues the tradition of high-profile Olympic athletes serving as featured speakers for the 27th annual Virginia Commonwealth Games. He perfected the back-first technique of high jumping, known as the “Fosbury Flop.”

“He revolutionized the high jump event and is considered one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field,” said Pete Lampman, president of Virginia Amateur Sports. “High school, college, and professional high jumpers still use the Fosbury Flop when they compete.”

Fosbury won the NCAA national championship for Oregon State in 1968 and 1969 and established Olympic and United States records by clearing 7-feet, 4¼-inches to capture the gold medal at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. He was elected to the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1981, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992, and the World Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 2010.

Lampman said he and his staff have been “riding on a cloud” since Liberty University was named as the primary sponsor of the Virginia Commonwealth Games last October.

“The reception we have received has been outstanding, far better than we could have imagined or even hoped for,” Lampman said. “I’d like to thank President Jerry Falwell for opening the campus doors to bring events like the Virginia Commonwealth Games to Lynchburg so we can thrive and expand on the quality of our programs, for pledging the facilities and the resources of the university to provide opportunities for our participants to compete on Division I facilities in a world-class atmosphere. For many of our athletes, it is a dream come true.”

Liberty began its five-year contract to host the Virginia Commonwealth Games with a baton competition, the first event of the 2016 Games, held April 9 in the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.

“I’m excited for our athletes to have the opportunity to play at these nationally ranked stadiums and world-class facilities here,” Virginia Commonwealth Games Director Amanda Mangum said. “The biggest reward of all is going to be the memories and the experiences they’re going to take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette expressed his appreciation to Liberty and Virginia Amateur Sports for bringing the Commonwealth Games to Lynchburg, with an estimated economic impact of more than $3 million over the Opening Ceremonies weekend alone.

Outgoing Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette spoke during Wednesday's press conference.
Outgoing Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette spoke during Wednesday’s press conference in the Williams Club Pavilion.

“The Commonwealth Games is truly a high-quality operation that is bringing some excellent opportunities to young people throughout the Commonwealth, and we’re just thrilled to be able to support activities like this that promote healthy living, that promote keeping people active, that teach competitive skills and teamwork skills and all the things that you gain when you engage in this sort of athletic competition,” Gillette said. “My term as mayor is about to expire and I want to say publically how easy it has been and what a pleasure it has been to work with Liberty University on a number of different activities that have been mutually beneficial. We find Liberty to be an important part of our community, an important organizational citizen in Lynchburg … and we’re proud to partner with them as a city.”

More than 225,000 athletes have participated in the Commonwealth Games, making it the largest multi-sport festival held in Virginia each year. More than 9,000 participated in 53 distinct sports in last summer’s 26th annual Games, when Liberty Softball Head Coach Dot Richardson served as the Olympic Speaker in Salem, Va.

This year, 15 new sports will be introduced, including paintball on the Liberty Paintball Fields, indoor youth soccer at the Thomas Indoor Soccer Center, rock climbing at the LaHaye Student Union rock wall, ice hockey at the LaHaye Ice Center, and lacrosse at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.