Dean Macey: The nearly man with bravery to swear by talks like a winner

After endlessly cursing his luck in big events, popular Canvey Islander aims to strike gold in Melbourne. Simon Turnbull talks to him
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The Independent Online

Dean Macey has forgotten our appointment. He has been getting a little shirty instead. He has been distracted, it transpires, by the delivery of his Commonwealth Games kit. "It's all right," he says. "This T-shirt looks awful. I'm taking it off. I just said to Lisa [his wife], 'I'm not walking round in that'. But, mate, I'd look as big a twat as they want me to, as long as I've got a big medallion hanging round my neck."

It is so rarely that the injury-cursed decathlon man gets to pull on international kit these days (just once in the last four- and-a-half years, when he dragged himself off the treatment table to finish a miraculous fourth in the Athens Olympics) that it's a wonder he doesn't get out his England vest and run round the house in it, as Paula Radcliffe confessed to doing when her first inter-national singlet arrived in the post. "Nah," Macey says, laughing at the suggestion. "The first time I put on a GB vest was when I was in Russia. They gave them to us as we got to the hotel at two in the morning. The bus had broken down; it was an horrendous journey. It was one of those trips that if everyone didn't bond together it would just put you off athletics for life; you'd retire there and then.

"It was a fantastic trip. I'll never forget it. I remember getting up to the hotel room, putting on my vest and shorts and standing in front of this full-length mirror, thinking, 'It took me four years to earn this and I'm looking good in it,' when I heard this big bang and my room-mate just splattered a cockroach. I thought, 'Mm, ain't that fucking glamorous, is it?' "

Perhaps not. But the international athletics scene is always a lot brighter when Macey manages to patch himself up and challenge for a big medallion. His language might be on the heavily industrial side of colourful, but it is all part of the allure of his Ronseal personality. You get what it says on the tin with the honest, open, effusive, effing and blinding, thoroughly endearing Canvey Islander.

The mere presence of the 6ft 5in ray of sunshine is guaranteed to pierce the gloom that has been shrouding British athletics of late when the runners, jumpers and throwers of the United Kingdom split into four national teams for the Commonwealth Games, which open at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday week.

It has been one of the great pities of GB athletics that the man with the potential to be the greatest all-round athlete of all time has spent so much of his decathlon career hamstrung by injury, as if that Russian cockroach had been an albatross in disguise. Still, after missing 2005 because of a knee operation, Macey is back in training and ready to go for Commonwealth gold in Melbourne, if not yet clear of the hamstring problem that has proved his biggest hindrance.

"I'm in pretty good nick at the moment," he says. "I've just thrown a personal best in the shot and jumped a PB [personal best] in the pole vault today, so my training's coming along. Certainly, running-wise I'm not in the shape I want to be. I haven't done anything where I've gone over 75 per cent in training. I'm almost certain my 400m time is going to be down, which puts a bit of pressure on my other events. But, like I said, some of my other events are going pretty well at the moment.

"If I can score what I scored in Athens [8,414pts for fourth place, when a long way short of 100 per cent fit] then I think that should be enough to win it. I'm hoping I'm in good enough shape to do that. I could have done with a little competition just to get myself ready. But I'm almost certain that when that gun goes for the 100m [the first of the decathlon's 10 events] I'll know what to do. I mean, you've got to be a stupid athlete not to go fast when the gun goes. It's hardly a brain-sapping event. I mean it's like, 'Fucking let's go for it'."

Alf Tupper put it a little less crudely in the pages of The Victor, but Macey has always brought the spirit of the comic-book Tough of the Track to the real-life, stern-faced, often-cynical international track-and- field arena. At times he has been strapped up with almost as many bandages as Tutankhamun, but has still gone for it without the slightest bit of fuss. Not once in his senior career has he toed the start line without carrying at least one significant injury, yet he has won a brace of World Championship medals (silver in Seville in 1999, bronze in Edmonton in 2001) and has twice been placed fourth in the Olympics (in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004).

This time, though, with the world's best decathletes absent (the Olympic champion, Roman Sebrle, is Czech and the world champion, Bryan Clay, American), Macey will not have to be at his absolute physical best to claim a Commonwealth crown last won by a Briton - Daley Thompson - in 1986. "I'd like to exorcise my demons, if you like," Macey ventures, "but there are no gimmes in the decathlon. There are 10 events that can go right but there are also 10 events that can go wrong. Until I'm on that line with the gun going in the 1500m [the last event] I'm still going to be nervous.

"I need to get through the next couple of weeks and then I need to have two bloody good days. And, you know, blood, sweat and tears, mate - like I always do. I'll be giving it everything I've got. If I've to get anaesthetic whacked into me knee and me ankle every event, I don't care. I'll get through it. Unless my leg falls off, I'll finish it and I'll do well. I'm not sure how I pull all the performances out of the bag, I'm really not. But I'm hoping I can rely on that in the competition again. I'm hoping I come home with a nice big gold medal round my neck. That would be fantastic.

"I mean, I've never won an international competition. That first international match in Russia, I came second. I came second in the World Junior Championships. I came second in my first England international, up at Kelvin Hall. I've come second and third all the time, but I've never won anything. I certainly feel that I've earned my stripes. I just need the gold medal."

The one-time lifeguard undoubtedly deserves one, and it will take a major breakdown to stop him from striking gold in the MCG - and from becoming the most popular Pom there since the swashbuckling days of Ian Botham. It is a sad measure of Macey's long-running battle for fitness that he has only won two minor competitions as a senior decathlete, invitation events at Arles in the south of France in 1999 and at Hexham in Northumberland in 2001. Another measure has been the loss of his endorsement contracts over the past 19 months of competitive inactivity.

"No, I haven't got any sponsors," he confesses. "I'm nowhere near contracts or, financially, where I was a few years ago. For a man like me, that's very difficult to accept, but I'm hoping this year will be the kick up the arse that my career needs.

"I don't blame anyone for not sponsoring me, because I'm no betting man but I certainly wouldn't bet on the Grand National on a horse with three legs. If I'd been in their shoes, I wouldn't have thrown money at me either.

"But I still feel I'm marketable and I'm as good an athlete as I was three years ago. I've still got what it takes to be the best in the world. I honestly believe that. I just need to be fit for six months before a decathlon, instead of doing what I've been doing: training for two weeks, having a week off, training for two weeks, having two weeks off. Over a period of six months, I've only been getting three months of quality training in."

For most of 2005, Macey was not even fit enough to follow his normal, injury-punctuated training pattern. A devoted angler, he took advantage to start a sideline career as a television presenter. On Coarse With Dean Macey, screened by the Discovery Channel, referred to the nature of the fishing rather than the language.

"I'm not sure people would tell me to my face if it was shit, but I've had some pretty good feedback," Macey reflects. "I was actually on the internet the other day, on one of the fishing forums, and saw the first bit of criticism that I picked up on. The first line says, 'Well, I'll never switch on again...' And I thought, 'Oh shit, I better tap on the link and see how it finishes'. And it says '...because the missus fancies the pants off him'. So I'm going, 'Lise, Lise, come and look at this'.

"That I can accept... But then, if I'm sitting next to a big slimy bream, I haven't really got much competition, have I?"


NAME: Dean Macey.

BORN: 12 December 1977, Rochford, Essex.

VITAL STATS: 6ft 5in, 15st 6lb.

COACH: Greg Richards, AAA decathlon champion 1985-86; former training partner of Daley Thompson.

PERSONAL BESTS: 8,603pts in 2001 - second best in UK, behind 8,847 by Thompson in 1984; 100m 10.69sec; 400m 46.21sec; 1500m 4min 23.45sec; 110m hurdles 14.34sec; high jump 2.15m; pole vault 4.80m; long jump 7.77m; shot put 15.77m; discus 48.34m; javelin 64.03m.

MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1996 world juniors, silver; '99 worlds, silver; 2000 Olympics 4th; '01 worlds, bronze; '04 Olympics 4th.