Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting TANEWS to 80360, or email
Decathlon legend Daley Thompson miles in front of peers in my vote for best of British
Simon Parker column
Through the eyes of a 16-year-old, Daley Thompson was the pinnacle of cool.
Whistling the national anthem, swearing live on TV and grinding rivals into the track.
He was like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in vest top and running spikes.
And Thompson was also the face of the must-have computer game of the time; the blister-thon otherwise known as Daley Thompson’s Decathlon on the ZX Spectrum.
Many a palm must have been shredded from the frantic joystick-waggling required to negotiate the races on the screen.
By the end, assessing the ripped skin and bloody craters erupting on your hand, it felt as if we’d all done the ten events with him. In 1984, Thompson was THE reason to watch the Olympics.
We had a debate in the office the other day about Britain’s best Olympian.
Sir Steve Redgrave, Seb Coe, Kelly Holmes? No, for me there was only one name miles in front.
The phrase track and field used to conjure up images of shivering on the start line at school sports day. Athletics was something to be suffered if you weren’t good enough at any sports involving a ball.
But Thompson changed all that and made athletics fashionable, especially for this impressionable teenager.
He was different gravy without being a goody two shoes like Coe.
Deadly serious when in the zone, he was by all accounts a nightmare to interview.
Thompson was elusive to pin down and once only agreed to do a newspaper piece providing the reporter could reel off all the decathlon disciplines in the right order. He couldn’t and the chat never happened.
In my professional guise now, I’d have his card marked as one to avoid. But way back when, he was the reason to stay up all night and tune in to the Los Angeles games.
Thompson was not just intent on winning; he went out to destroy the rest of the pack, both mentally and physically. It was about having that control over the rest to do exactly what he wanted.
So people were nervous and uncomfortable around him – and how he revelled in that uncertainty.
He would regularly appear in t-shirts with provocative slogans, the most infamous being the one that questioned the sexuality of ‘the world’s second-greatest athlete’. It was a presumed jibe at America’s then golden boy Carl Lewis.
Thompson met Princess Anne at the Games and then, when asked about the conversation, told reporters that she had remarked on what a good-looking guy he was.
When God Save the Queen belted out, he whistled along from the podium.
His success was followed with a landslide victory to be named BBC sports personality of the year, an announcement he greeted with an impromptu four-letter reaction that had the TV hosts cringing.
For eight years from 1979 to 1987, Thompson remained untouchable; the demigod of decathlon.
When the era ended with defeat at last, it was as if a spell had been broken. At the age of 28, he never regained that former greatness and disappeared quickly from the scene.
But two decades on, he is still the face of British Olympic glory for me.
You can keep your Coes, Edwards, Jacksons and Redgraves. There was only one Daley Thompson.
London 2012 promises to be a spectacular Olympic feast on our doorstep. There will be magical moments and, hopefully, medals galore.
But none will stand out like the swaggering macho man with the moustache.
And to top it all, I hear his game is coming back on an App for the mobile phone. That’s gotta be worth a bit of pain for old time’s sake.