FIRST NIGHT: DEAN MACEY - Ten reasons to hope for a new Daley

Simon Turnbull talks to the ex-lifeguard with the decathlon in his care
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DEAN MACEY'S first job was as a saver of lives. "Well," he said, reflecting on the four years he spent as a lifeguard at the Waterside Leisure Complex on Canvey Island, "I pulled people out of the pool. I don't know whether I saved their lives. The most I was doing was just chucking them out of the water."

His new job, if it can be called that, not coming with a salary or remuneration of any degree, is as a saver of the great British decathlon reputation that sank without trace when Francis Morgan Thompson - Daley, that is - hung up his running spikes, and his javelin, his shot, his discus and his vaulting pole. "Yeah," Macey said, pondering the suggested job description. "I suppose you could put it that way. Sounds pretty cool."

And Macey, without doubt, is a pretty cool decathlete - the first Briton to make an international impression in the 10-event test of all-round athletic ability since the glory days of Thompson, the four-time world record breaker and two-time Olympic champion. In emerging victorious from the Arles decathlon in France on 29 and 30 May, the Canvey Islander amassed 8,347 points, the second highest by a Briton (behind Thompson's British record, 8,847 points) and the highest by a British decathlete for 16 years - since Thompson's last-hurrah victory against Jurgen "Hollywood" Hingsen at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart.

Having been only eight at the time of Daley's final golden two days, Macey has no personal recall of the great man at his peak. "I have seen videos of him competing," he said. "I asked my coach for them, just so I could compare. He's a different athlete to me. But I can definitely see myself, in the future, going over what he scored. Like my coach says, though, if I break the British record, whether that's going to be good enough to be number one in the world is another question.

"The world record's just gone [to Thomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic, who scored 8,994 points in Prague three weeks ago] and everyone else is going to be thinking, 'OK, 9,000 points is possible'. I think the standard of decathlon is going to move on in the next five years. And hopefully I can get up there and be at the head of the group."

If Macey does make it to the top - and at 21 the pride of Harrow Athletics Club already stands 10th on the world ranking list - it will be with a little help from Thompson, albeit indirectly. Macey's coach, Greg Richards, learned the finer points of the decathlon in the company of Thompson, who now spends his working life as Wimbledon Football Club's fitness trainer. Richards, who won the AAA decathlon title in 1985 and 1986 and finished 30th in the 1988 Olympics, was Thompson's training partner. Thompson also helped to coach him.

"I've met Daley a couple of times," Macey said. "Last year I went warm- weather training to the States and he was out there. He gave me a few pointers. He's a nice fella."

It is a pity for Macey that he did not get a few more points, never mind pointers, when he was competing in Arles. Another 501 would have taken him past Thompson's 15-year-old British record - and out of Thompson's giant shadow. Macey went to France on a make-or-break mission - after three years hamstrung by injury, since taking the silver medal at the 1996 world junior championships in Sydney, staking his future as a full- time athlete or as a full-time lifeguard on the outcome of the competition. Having broken through to the world-class ranks, though, he has found life as a professional decathlete hampered by Thompson's historical domination of the event.

Macey still lives at home with his parents on Canvey and receives support from the Barclaycard Team 2000 scheme, the National Lottery and Sir Eddie Kulukundis, the long-time patron saint of Britain's financially challenged athletes. But he has yet to find a kit manufacturer keen to put his name to its brand. "There are a lot of athletes in the country who have got kit contracts and have achieved a lot less than I have," he said, and with justification. "It's just lack of understanding of the event and naivety if you ask me. People obviously look at it and say, 'Oh, Daley is the main man.' I don't think they understand. They think he's a one and only.

"Fair enough. But it doesn't mean his British record can't go. I'm confident I can break it, if I'm injury free. If I keep getting loads of injuries I'm not going to do it, but if the gods are on my side I don't see why I can't break it."

Macey clearly has room for further improvement. Though he progressed by 867 points in Arles and set personal bests in half of the individual disciplines (10.65sec in the 100m, 7.52m in the long jump, 47.49sec in the 400m, 4.55m in the pole vault and 4min 31.61sec in the 1,500m), he was nursing a hamstring injury that has continued to trouble him.

"It does get sore," he said, "but it hasn't stopped me training and it hasn't stopped me competing. There are a lot of things, I think, that I can improve on. I missed the starting gun in the 100m in Arles and my long jump's going to get a hell of a lot better, because I used a short run up. I was also 120 points down on what I should have done in the shot.

"I figure I've got 300 to 400 points to put on my second day score - and another 200 or 300 points, maybe, on my first day. And that's just in the next two or three years. After that, you'd be looking for little progressions - 50 points here, 50 points there. The main thing for me this year is to get through injury free to set myself up for 2000 and after. A long run is essential. You need to string a good two or three years together to make real progress and I was out injured in 1997 and 1998. I just want to go into the winter with a bit of experience and a bit of competition behind me."

Macey will certainly get what he wants before the summer ends. This week he travels to Gothenburg for the European Under-23 Championships, which start on Thursday, and next month he makes his senior Great Britain debut at the World Championships in Seville.

"I'm looking for a medal in Gothenburg," he said. "I'm ranked number two in the world at under- 23 level and the decathlete above me is also European - Chiel Warners from the Netherlands. He's 16 points ahead of me and, from what I gather, he's in great shape. But he was ranked ahead of me going into the world juniors three years ago and I took the silver and he got the bronze, so there's no reason why I shouldn't beat him again. I'll be disappointed if I don't get the gold medal really. But silver's the least I should get.

"As for the world championships, I'm going there for experience more than anything else. I mean, realistically, I'm not going to win it. Well, certainly, I'm not going to win it. But I want to go out there and mix it with the big boys. I want to show a few people there's a new kid on the block." A new decathlon kid in red, white and blue, too.

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