Simplot Games attracts Olympic champions to serve as role models
By JOHN O'CONNELL
POCATELLO, Idaho -- Dick Fosbury revolutionized high jumping at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when he deviated from the traditional technique and broke records with a back-first flop.
Nowadays, the 65-year-old gold medalist seeks to push the limits of crop production at high elevations on his hobby farm and ranch in Bellevue, Idaho.
As chairman of the annual Simplot Games -- the nation's largest indoor track meet scheduled for Feb. 14-16 in Pocatello's Holt Arena -- Fosbury appreciates both the high-caliber competition and the emphasis the event places on agriculture.
He's recruited five other Olympic champions, including former Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, to attend the games as role models for the young athletes. The Olympians are scheduled to host a Breakfast with Fosbury and Friends from 7:30-9 a.m. Feb. 15 at Red Lion Hotel. Tickets will be sold in advance through the Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce and at the door. Admission to the games is free.
"I think it's important that Simplot has done this to show the other companies in Idaho that they have a corporate social responsibility," Fosbury said. "Every year there's a national record that's set and some of the top performances in the country by high school kids."
Simplot took over the games from Idaho State University 35 years ago, after the NCAA determined ISU's involvement constituted an NCAA recruiting violation.
Simplot public relations manager Rick Phillips said an economic study conducted a few years ago shows the games provide a direct cash infusion to Pocatello of $6 million. The first games drew fewer than 600 athletes. Participation has grown to about 2,000 athletes from 25 states and Canada.
Simplot will again offer a program called The Fast and the Farmers, featuring agricultural trivia and blue-screen photos of athletes in farm settings.
"Our goal is helping these students understand that it's agriculture providing for the games," Phillips said.
Fosbury has been involved with the games since the early 1980s, when he attended to host clinics for coaches and athletes. He assumed the role of chairman after the first Olympian to hold the post, Florence Griffith-Joyner, died in 1998.
For nearly 36 years, he's lived in Idaho, where he raises 20 acres of hay for his wife's horses. He also produces tree fruit, 1.5 acres of vegetables and worms to aid in composting.
Having retired last summer as a civil engineer and licensed land surveyor, he plans to raise specialty garlic for local restaurants and to sell mint and other produce at farmers' markets.
"We're constantly testing what we are able to grow at this high elevation with the amount of rainfall we are able to get," said Fosbury, whose wife is a master gardener.
Fosbury quit high jumping five years ago, after a life-threatening, malignant tumor was removed from his spine, but still conducts summer high jump camps. He's now cancer-free.
He developed his flop as a track athlete in Medford, Ore., unable to master the traditional, forward-facing approach.