Daley Thompson claims more decathlon honors than anybody before him. He is the only man in any event to win two Olympic gold medals and a world championship. Add four world records, three Commonwealth titles, and a pair of European crowns and you have Francis M. “Daley” Thompson. Born of a Scottish mother and Nigerian father who named him Adodele (an African name shortened to “Dele” and by his friends to “Daley”), he is as ferocious on the track as he is amiable off.
Daley was born in Kensington, London, July 30th, 1958. He stands 1.84m and weights 88 kilos. His athletic career started at boarding school, where he gave early notice of his all-around ability. He competed in his first decathlon when he was 16. A year later he won the AAA title and qualified for the Montreal Games, where he finished a little-noticed 18th. But Bruce Jenner noticed him and claims later that Daley never stopped asking him questions. The next year, in his first match-up with Jürgen Hingsen, Daley won the European Junior title. He went on to score 8000 twice that year.
His first major international win came in Edmonton, Canada, in 1978, the Commonwealth Games title. But he lost the European championships in Prague to Russian Aleksandr Grebenyuk. It was his last defeat until 1987. A new world record of 8622 (8648) and the Olympic title in Moskva followed in 1980. In 1982 he trained in San Diego and London. Daley was rewarded with two more world records, the second coming in Athens, where he captured the European Championships with 8743 (8774). In 1983, despite groin and back injuries, Daley went on to win the initial World Championships in Helsinki with score of 8666 (8714). But by 1984, Hingsen, the ever-present nemesis, had pushed the world mark up several notches, posing an Olympic threat. When Daley heard that Hingsen expected to leave Los Angeles with the gold medal in 1984, he grinned. “The only way he’ll do that is to steal mine,” he said.
It was during the discus competition in LA that Thompson revealed the truest part of his character, the remarkable competitiveness that was to stamp his entire career. After two awful throws and a near lifetime best by Hingsen, Daley suddenly found himself trailing. “It was like I went to the cliff and looked over the edge,” he later remarked. But he never hesitated on his final toss. It went out low but with terrific force, landing at 46.56m, pushing him back to a lead he never relinquished. For Thompson’s career, that was his moment of truth.
Commonwealth and European titles followed in 1986, the latter over Hingsen again. He was married in 1987. Injured, he stuck it out in the World Championships in Roma before losing his crown to workmanlike Torsten Voss of the GDR – his first defeat in nine seasons. It was a similarly difficult year in 1988. A daughter arrived, and another injury reduced his effectiveness at the Seoul Olympic Games. Again an East German, this time Christian Schenk, replaced him as Olympic champion. Daley barely missed the bronze medal.
Daley’s competitive ability has brought him unparalleled decathlon success. He won 19 of 31 meets and every major title open to him. Interestingly, despite having competed in four decathlons in Wales and one in Scotland, he has never done a 10-eventer in England.