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Athletics: Sponsorship deal underlines Macey's status

DEAN MACEY'S days of shelf-stacking and working as a part-time lifeguard to make ends meet were formally consigned to the past yesterday as the 21-year-old world decathlon silver medallist announced a three- year sponsorship deal with Asics worth an estimated pounds 180,000.

But as the brightest new star in the British athletics firmament spoke in the trendy setting of the Design Museum at London's Butler's Wharf, his words confirmed that, while you can take the boy out of Canvey Island, you can't take Canvey Island out of the boy. And what's more, the boy doesn't want you to.

Dean Macey still lives in his family home with his parents, still sees his mates in the pub - "they don't ask to buy me drinks, although they ask me if I should be downing them quite so quick, that's for sure" - and is still, well, Dean Macey.

To label Macey as an overnight success following his success at this year's World Championships in Seville would be an exaggeration. First, because the decathlon competition took two days, but more importantly because this is an athlete who has already spent five years working to reach the point at which he finds himself.

However, since his dramatic arrival into the public eye - "this time last year I was nowhere" - he confesses that it has taken a while for the measure of his achievement to sink in.

"I sit down and think about it from time to time, and it sends shivers up my spine," he said. "I kind of overshot my mark." What he now faces, as the Olympic year looms, is expectation - from the media, the great British public, and, most of all, himself.

"My own expectation is bigger than anyone's," he said. "I've never had expectation on my shoulders before. If I blow it big time or thrive on it, I don't know. But I've got no worries at the moment. My life is great - no other way of putting it."

He plans to do one more decathlon before the Olympics, perhaps in Gotzis, perhaps in Tallence. Then it's on to Sydney - and while he is wise enough not to assume that a medal will be his, he is heading for a target points score which, he believes, will make a medal automatic. Having achieved 8556 points in Seville, Daley Thompson's British record of 8847 points must be in Macey's thoughts.

"At this stage of the year last year I was nowhere near as fit as I am now," said the man who could barely drag his frame to the post-event press conference in Seville as he carried ankle and elbow injuries. "And I can see 150 to 200 points possible improvement just in terms of technical improvements I can make."

Macey can call upon the expertise of Steve Backley, Britain's European champion, when it comes to improving his javelin throwing. Backley, another Asics athlete, clearly admires many of Macey's qualities. "I think Dean and I are pretty normal people," Backley said. "We are lucky in that we are in a position to achieve big ambitions. I know what it's like - once you get a sniff of it you say to yourself `Done it once, now do it again.' But we've chatted a lot and his attitude is brilliant."

In the meantime, Macey is aiming to change as little as possible in his day-to-day routine. "If something works for you, why change it?" he said.

One thing may have to change after yesterday's announcement, however - Mrs Macey is likely to be expecting some housekeeping money froms her son.