Legend Thompson warns Olympic hopefuls
Matt Majendie @mattmajendie
Like the rest of the British public, Daley Thompson logged on to his laptop at home in April last year and entered the lottery of the Olympic tickets ballot.
And, like much of the rest of the UK, he failed in his bid to get seats for the athletics, meaning the man who is arguably the greatest British athlete in history, thanks to his decathlon heroics, will be missing from the Olympic Stadium this summer.
But the two-time Olympic champion is not unduly bothered. Although one might imagine he would be most excited about watching Jessica Ennis, Britain’s leading multi-discipline athlete, he is most looking forward to seeing the Brownlee brothers in the triathlon, much of which is free to view.
“I like the Brownlee brothers,” he explains. “They’re unreal as athletes and really nice guys but what I really like about them is that they’re old-school and they’re all about the hard work and the fun of it. That was my ethos too.”
While Thompson likes to think the Yorkshiremen have qualities that he had, he cannot quite explain what those qualities are or where, in his case, the drive came from.
“If I knew what it was, where it came from and how to bottle it, I’d be the richest man in the world right now,” he says. “I don’t know what really got me up in the morning. Really I have no idea.
“I do remember that I was never satisfied, even training seven days a week for five or six hours a day. I was never confident it was enough and that’s probably the biggest compliment I could pay to Jurgen Hingsen.”
Thompson and the German had an intense rivalry that almost bordered on hatred as they vied to be the world’s best decathlete. The pair even sported similar moustaches that would make any recent Movember protagonists proud. The rivalry has softened considerably since retirement and the pair now meet often.
“I probably see Jurgen a couple of times a year if I can,” says Thompson. “We meet up somewhere and have a bit of a chinwag. We’re good friends now but that just wasn’t possible back then as we were after the same thing. We always had respect but we’re also able to be friends now.”
Thompson says that the pair don’t spend much time reminiscing – “I’m the sort of person that looks forward rather than back in life,” – which is not surprising considering he gave away his Olympic medals some time ago. But he is still happy to reflect on his career. “Of course I’ll talk about it if someone like you brings it up.”
Thompson is relishing the Olympics but admits he feels “a little bit of envy” towards those who will be taking part. “To compete in front of your home crowd is the best thing but I retired long ago, that’s how it is. I’m just pleased to be around to take my kids along to watch it”.
The father of five now lives in Brighton but spent much of his life in Notting Hill and Putney. As a Londoner he is particularly proud about the city hosting the Games and believes Britain’s track and field athletes will have a far greater medal haul than at the Beijing Olympics and last year’s World Championships.
“What happened to some athletes in Daegu is a warning sign for them to make the changes that need to be made,” he says. “Anyway, it’s far better to get beaten in Daegu than in London.”
He uses the example of Ennis for just that point and insists she has work to do to improve sufficiently to win gold. “She needs to make a few adjustments,” he says. “Certainly not major adjustments. To be honest, it’s more about how she feels about the stuff. It’s not so much about the technique but about feeling happier now she’s a faster athlete. The key really is that she avoids worry and stress about it.”
As for the rest of the team, Thompson is hopeful that the likes of Dwain Chambers, currently banned from the Olympics under the British Olympic Association bylaw, are not given the opportunity to compete in the capital.
However, he argues the BOA is not being strong. “I think their stance is good but I don’t think it’s admirable as it’s the only thing they should be doing,” he says. “It’s the only stance they can take against cheats.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s like criminals; they get treated better than the victims and it makes you think what is going on in this world. So, if the BOA don’t stand for this then what do they stand for?”
Thompson believes he has mellowed a lot from the athlete that first took part in a decathlon in Cwmbran, Wales, in 1975. “I hope I’m a different person to then as I only ever had one thing on my mind, which was winning and being the best,” he says. “From the moment I first did the decathlon, I knew I’d be good at it. I’m not quite sure how or why. Maybe it was as simple as the optimism of youth”.
As for where Britain’s next Daley Thompson will come from, he laughs at the thought. “I don’t think the world’s ready for another Daley Thompson,” he says. “If you mean our next top decathlete, I don’t know. A lot of athletes at the age of 16 or 17 aren’t willing to give it a go and risk not being very good at an event for a five years and I can understand that. For a few years I was rubbish but I knew I’d be good so I stuck at it.”
Returning the subject of the Games, Thompson says he may yet make it into the Olympic Stadium despite his lack of tickets. Sebastian Coe has backed him to light the Olympic flame but, in turn, Thompson believes his former Team GB team-mate would be the best choice. “I think he should do it,” added Thompson. “He’s done more for the Olympics than anyone else.”
Daley Thompson is a BT Ambassador. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Visit www.bt.com/london2012
If you enjoyed this, then check out Matt Ogborn’s interview with badminton medal hope Chris Adcock