Athletics: Thompson retires after his five-second finale: Mike Rowbottom reports on the sad farewell for a great decathlete whose career ended yesterday

Click to follow
DALEY THOMPSON'S long goodbye took all of five seconds at Crystal Palace yesterday. Seeking last-minute qualification for his fifth Olympics in a hastily arranged decathlon, he pulled up with a hamstring injury half-way through his opening event, the 100 metres, and left the track with an arm slung over the shoulder of his long-time advisor, Frank Dick, before confirming that his international career was over.

Since he completed his first decathlon in 1975, Thompson, 34 this month, has won two Olympic titles, one world, two European and three Commonwealth, as well as setting four world records, the last of which still stands. But under a leaden south London sky, in what was his first decathlon in England, his prospects of achieving the 7,850 points required by tomorrow's deadline in front of an optimistic scattering of spectators were even less healthy than they had been in Trondheim last weekend, when he pulled out after four events.

Afterwards Thompson, whose Olympic preparations were undermined when he dislocated a collarbone in training at the end of May, attempted a little of the insouciance which has characterised his previous public utterances: 'It was only five seconds, but it was an impressive five seconds, don't you think?'

The man who has claimed with some justification to be the world's greatest athlete has always inspired love and devotion in the British public, but his refusal to play the game with the media over the years has engendered a steady build-up of resentment in many quarters. Yesterday there was no escape for him as, with right knee bandaged, he presented himself to photographers and reporters, like a tiger rolling on to its back. 'I've spent the last nine months trying to make the Olympics,' he said. 'But mechanical failure is in the lap of the gods,' he said. 'You just have to live with it.

'I enjoy what I do. I just don't do it as well as I used to. Nobody has a divine right at the end of the day. If you don't make the grade, you've no right to be there. And I didn't make the grade.

'The sport has never been about razzmatazz for me, its been about going out there and doing what you can. I have always given 105 per cent. All my decathlons were fun, apart from the last two. The best was probably in Donetsk in 1977, when I won the European juniors, because I wasn't expected to win. After that, the pressure from myself was always too great. It was always just - relief.'

There are, he maintains, no contingency plans now - 'I've always believed in climbing one mountain at a time.' But a large house in Fulham and a growing family will not run on air. It is Thompson's misfortune to have been the world's best competitor in an event which he has only been able to take part in once or twice a year.

He has earned no money directly from the sport, and although advertising work with products such as Lucozade and Thompson Directories has proved lucrative, that work, and his current contract with Adidas, is likely to disappear without the high profile which a last Olympic appearance would give him. In the short term, he plans a benefit evening in August involving among others, the world decathlon champion, Dan O'Brien.

Thompson hung around yesterday as the seven other decathletes and 24 officials were left to salvage what cheer they could from the event.

'It's almost poetic,' Thompson said. 'There were no more than 50 people watching me in the rain at Cwmbran in my first four decathlons and it's come full circle.' He paused for a moment, before adding: 'That's fine.' For a moment, you almost believed him.

Black showpiece, page 30


Born: Kensington, London, July 30, 1958

1976: Olympic Games (Montreal) 7,434pts, 18th

1978: Commonwealth Games (Edmonton) 8,467, Gold

1978: European Champs (Prague) 8,289, Silver

1980: International Invitation (Gotzis) 8,622 (WR) 1st

1980: Olympic Games (Moscow) 8,495, Gold

1982: International invitation (Gotzis) 8,704 (WR) 1st

1982: European Champs (Athens) 8,743 (WR) Gold

1982: Commonwealth Games (Brisbane) 8,410, Gold

1983: World Champs (Helsinki) 8,666, Gold

1984: Olympic Games (Los Angeles) 8,847 (WR) Gold

1986: Commonwealth Games (Edinburgh) 8,663, Gold

1986: European Champs (Stuttgart) 8,811, Gold

1987: World Champs (Rome) 8,124, 9th

1988: Olympic Games (Seoul) 8,306, 4th