The mantle of sporting great, legend or icon is almost certainly too easily conferred on people in this era of easy, transient fame and notoriety. But some wear it well. They are comfortable with it and, above all, they warrant it.
Daley Thompson is one such public figure and sporting giant. Few people transcend the limited confines of their sport
and become an authentic household name, however remote or uninterested in sport that household might be.
Fewer still still are able to bestride national sporting consciousness a quarter of a century after their glorious heyday. Daley is unquestionably one such character.
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The argument for this iconic status is simple. It is purely a matter of glancing at his competitive record. For a little over nine years up to 1987 he was unbeaten as a decathlete. He was the first decathlete to simultaneously hold: Olympic,
World, European and Commonwealth titles and
the world record.
And just for good measure he won most of those titles more than once: Olympic champion in 1980 and ’84, European Champion in 1982 and ’86, Commonwealth Champion in 1978, ’82 and ’86. And on his way to these titles he clocked up four world records.
Selecting the world’s greatest athlete is always good material for a debate but there are so many factors and variables that the chances of finding an answer to satisfy everyone are remote. However there are many who regard the multi-event decathletes as the ultimate athletes. Ten track and field events all tackled to the highest competitive level over two intense days.
Traditionally the title of ‘World’s Greatest Athlete’ has been bestowed on the man who takes the decathlon title. And Daley Thompson was the greatest decathlete of all.
But that was only part of the overall picture. Daley’s immense stature as a sportsman was matched by the size of his character. His natural cheeky chappy persona might not have been to everyone’s liking, but Daley said what he thought, said what amused him and did what he did – and the vast majority loved him for it.
Jauntily whistling the national anthem whilst collecting an Olympic Gold medal, wearing t-shirts with deliberately provocative but obtuse messages emblazoned on them, making a contentious but powerful acceptance speech when named Sports Personality of the Year.
All just underlined the unpredictable but brilliant and engaging nature of a towering sporting champion. You never quite knew what was coming next but it would often be delivered with an infectious smile and a glint in the eye.
With managers , marketing people and commercial responsibility stifling modern day sportspeople into anodyne bland conformity, Daley’s more irreverent and entertaining approach is sadly lost.
But here is the contradiction. The man who seemed born to the limelight, who was a natural on the world’s biggest sporting stages and in front of the global media has, for some years, seemed far more content working away backstage rather than in the spotlight. In fact you might be hard pressed to remember the last time you heard or read a significant interview with Daley. All the more reason I was delighted he spoke to me!
He certainly has not been putting his feet up and taking it easy – far from it. Daley works tirelessly for charitable causes and he was a huge figure behind London’s successful 2012 Olympic
bid. Typically he was very focussed on the positive effect of securing the Olympics on education and sport
in schools. Yet even in that context he was happiest moving and shaking things behind the scenes and he continues to do so.
Whilst fellow former athletes have gone on to carve high profile media careers or take part in TV dance, ice skating and jungle challenges, Daley is focussed on making a difference at grass roots level, pushing the benefits of sport , inspiring children, motivating groups, helping adults get fitter and doing what he can to bring about positive behavioural patters and healthy, active ways of life.
“Sport gave me everything; a purpose, focus, discipline, direction and all of those things came together to ultimately bring me some success and make me what I am. I’m dedicated to doing what I can to energise people and bring to them the invigoration, fun, health benefits, satisfaction and community that sports and physical activity can bring.
Of course not everybody can become the best in the world or their country or school or even their class, but that’s fine – taking part, improving yourself, being mobile, active and healthy are the key aims.”
But Daley, who was awarded the CBE in 2000, also admitted that his eye was never far from unearthing sporting talent. “The next great athletes, rugby players, footballers, cricketers or whatever are just kids at the moment who probably have little idea of their potential. Everybody who goes on to the highest echelons of sport has to be discovered at some point and it’s important not to let too much talent slip through the net.
“But it all starts with those initial steps; having a go, listening to people who inspire and encourage you, deriving pleasure and self-motivation from your own improvements and learning to cope with both successes and failures.
American football coach Paul Brown said, ‘You can learn a line from a win and a book from a defeat’. And whilst nobody hopes to become too well read in that sense, there are very valuable personal and practical lessons to be learned from having a go, doing your best and picking yourself up when things don’t go in your favour.
And he’ll certainly never be stuck for a place to workout now that he’s opened his own gym – ‘Daley Fitness’ in Putney, London! www.daleyfitness.com
For more about Daley’s work with Kate Staples, Adventure Boot Camps and Daley’s Athletics Academy visit – www.fitnesscamp.co.uk
*End of Part 1. In Part 2 WatchFit looks more closely at what Daley is up to these days and his collaboration with WatchFit expert and former TV Gladiator Kate Staples. Coming soon…
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