The Greatest Olympic Athletes – men’s combined events

Our countdown of the greatest Olympic athletes for each event group continues with the men’s combined events

Daley Thompson (Mark Shearman)

Daley Thompson

For nearly 10 years, Francis Morgan Thompson, better known as ‘Daley’, ruled the decathlon world. The multi-talented, highly competitive and controversial performer was not only better than his rivals, he also practised relentlessly and famously trained twice on a Christmas Day. This dedication and self-belief brought him the ultimate prize – two Olympic gold medals.

His position among the pantheon of athletics greats needs no justification: world champion in 1983, European champion in 1982 and 1986, Commonwealth champion in 1978, 1982 and 1986, and, of course, Olympic champion in 1980 and 1984. His right to the crown as Britain’s most successful athlete of all-time is almost unchallenged and his popularity and sheer watchability go unrivalled even to this day. He recorded four world decathlon records (8648 in 1980, 8730 and 8774 in 1982, 8847 in 1984), three world junior records 1976-7, and 10 UK and Commonwealth records 1976-84.

Aged 14, Thompson was introduced to his local athletics club by his headmaster. He made an immediate impression, and the following summer he was fourth in the 200m at the English Schools. On leaving school it was not long before he was on top of the podium when he won the 60m gold at the AAA Junior Championships in 1975.

Having shown great talent for the varied aspects of athletics, Thompson took part in his first decathlon during the summer of that year and by the end of the season he held the UK junior record. He progressed at such a rate that he made the British team for the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976, which opened 13 days before his 18th birthday. He finished in 18th place with 7330 points, but by the time of the next Olympics it would be all about him.

At the 1980 Games in Moscow he dominated the event from start to finish. After a halfway lead of 264 points, the world record was there for the taking. Poor weather on the second day ruined his hopes, yet he still recorded the fifth highest total in history, becoming the Olympic champion with 8405.

Daley Thompson (Mark Shearman)

Four years later in Los Angeles he again stamped his authority from the start over his great rival Jürgen Hingsen from West Germany. After the first day he led with a world record total of 4633 and going into the last event he needed just 4:34.8 over 1500m to set new figures – his time was 0.2sec short and he missed the world record by just one point.

A back injury marred the defence of his world title in 1987 when he finished only ninth in Rome before missing out on a medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul a year later where he was fourth. After an operation to remove a bone growth in his left knee in 1989 and further injuries, he was unable to achieve his goal of a fifth Olympics in 1992 and on that day at Crystal Palace he announced his retirement.

Greatest Olympic combined eventers

The other athletes who received votes from readers of Athletics Weekly.

Bob Mathias
The American won the Olympic decathlon gold in 1948, then successfully defended his title four years later in Helsinki, setting a world record of 7887 and becoming the first man to win back-to-back Olympic decathlon titles.

Roman Sebrle
Made his Olympic debut in Sydney 2000, taking the silver medal. One year later he had broken the world record and became the first man to score more than 9000 points. In 2004 he won the Olympic title and broke the Olympic record with 8893. His 9026 is the longest-standing decathlon world record in the post-war era.

Bryan Clay
Finished a close second to Sebrle at the Athens Olympics, but had another shot at glory four years later in Beijing and succeeded. Although his score of 8791 was 29 points lower than his silver medal-winning score from 2004, it was more than enough to take gold and his 250-point winning margin was the largest in Olympic history.

Dan O’Brien
After exploding on to the scene in 1991 and winning the world title, the American would have been the favourite to win Olympic gold in 1992, but he bombed out of the US Trials after failing to register a height in the pole vault. He missed out on the Barcelona Games, but ended the year with a world record of 8891. He gained Olympic redemption four years later on US soil in Atlanta, winning gold with 8824.

» Click here to read the other athletes profiled in our ‘Greatest Olympic athletes’ countdown.

» All of these athletes and more are featured in AW‘s bookazine, The Greatest Olympic Athletes, available now for just £9.99.

» You can also pre-order our next special publication – The Greatest Show On Earth – our in-depth preview to the London 2012 Olympics.

One Response to “The Greatest Olympic Athletes – men’s combined events”

  1. SAG says:

    daley was a remarkable ambassador for the sport and a superb athlete. think that jim thorpe should have been included.

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