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The great showman's royal display

ESPN staff
July 12, 2012
Daley Thompson was at the peak of his powers in 1984 © Getty Images
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Daley Thompson liked to court controversy but, in 1984, the eyes of the world were on him for all the right reasons.

The man who put the decathlon on the sporting map with his incredible power and charisma won every competition he entered between 1978 and 1988, including two Olympic gold medals.

There's little doubt Thompson was at his peak in Los Angeles, totalling 8,797 points. It was one less than Jurgen Hingsen's record, but later adjusted in the following January by the IAAF to a world-record score of 8,847 due to new regulations.

He was the first athlete to simultaneously hold Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles.

"I just had to be first at everything," revealed the all-round powerhouse. "From catching the bus to finishing my lunch."

The gruelling preparation by the Brit, who stationed himself in the United States, meant he was in tip-top condition for the most taxing of Olympic events. He spoke beforehand of wanting to be a "superstar in the States as well" and of the realisation that the whole planet would be training their eyes on him in the 10 disciplines.

"I plan to block everything else out of my mind," he stressed. "No interviews, no appearances. Just training."

The air of confidence gushing from Thompson beforehand may have set lesser men up for a fall. He vowed: "The secret of being a great athlete is peaking at the right time. I'm the best athlete in the world and I know I'm going to win the gold in LA. I still have to be prepared for it, though."

Hingsen, the gigantic German, looked the only real threat to Daley's continued domination of the decathlon but his challenge was to fall short. Equalling his personal best in the 100 metres (10.44) was a fine start by the man from Notting Hill and he set new personal records in the long jump and shot putt to hold a 151-point lead over his great rival.

A key moment came in the discus on day two, after two poor throws, as he hurled it over 46 metres to overtake event-leader Hingsen in dramatic fashion.

"It was like I went to the cliff and looked over the edge," he declared. Hingsen had closed to within 32 points but his challenge faltered in the next event - the pole vault.

Incredibly, Thompson felt Hingsen's inability to push him all the way, despite posting the best losing score in decathlon history, affected his own tally.

"Before the pole vault, I thought I had a chance of scoring 9,000," said the winner. "But after Jurgen went out at such a low height, my real interest kind of diminished and I was just trying to get through with the least possible effort."

It's an extraordinary statement and one that sounds a little at odds with the showman's ideals. Yes, Thompson didn't over-exert himself in his least favourite event - the 1,500 metres - but he may have just been teasing the press, even if admitting all he wanted to do was win and not break the world record.

"I just had to be first at everything. From catching the bus to finishing my lunch"
- Daley Thompson

Thompson was probably closer to the truth when revealing: "Once we finally got into the Olympic atmosphere here, my motivation level rose to what it had been when I first started. And the last couple days I had the biggest buzz of my life."

Attracting the headlines after scooping gold, he attended the press conference wearing a T-shirt that asked: 'Is the world's second-greatest athlete gay?" in reference to American idol Carl Lewis. He also joked that he'd like to have Princess Anne's babies after the royal was amongst the crowd and greeted him after his triumph.

Always engaging and justifiably cocky, it would be easy to under-estimate his influence. This was a star in every sense of the word and he was at his very best in Los Angeles.

"I struggled financially, a lot of us did," he recalled. "But the struggle was worth it. And because we came at the end of the time of the amateur, we were still steeped in that philosophy. We wanted to do it for the glory, for the flag, to put Britain on the map, not for the fast cars and the faster ladies. Mind you, there wasn't any of that around: I'd have done it for that if there was!"

That is Daley Thompson down to a tee - a wonderful world-class athlete and a character and headline-grabber away from the track.

What happened next?
After retiring in 1992, he played professional football for Mansfield Town and Stevenage Borough and is now an official ambassador for the 2012 Olympics. Just don't describe him as a legend. "Legends are either in wheelchairs or dead," he reasoned.

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