Athletics: Macey determined to keep Olympic gold within reach

Decathlete prepares to return following latest injury setback with public expectation already spurring him towards the ultimate prize
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The Independent Online

Dean Macey is speaking from his front room, knowing that his partner, Lisa Hayes, can hear our phone conversation. "There are three things I'm serious about," he says, "my family, my athletics and my fishing. No, to put those in the right order, my fishing, my family and..." His sentence remains unfinished. Some kind of skirmish appears to be taking place.

Sadly for Macey and British athletics, injuries have allowed him plentiful time to indulge his passion over the past couple of years. But after a successful operation last November on a hamstring problem which had troubled him since before the 2000 Olympics, the biggest thing to come out of Canvey Island since Dr Feelgood is back in full training for the decathlon and looking ahead to a year which he hopes will culminate at the World Championships in Paris.

He still has time for fishing, of course, regularly setting off to visit the favoured lake that is just 20 minutes' drive from his home. "I'm there for two whole days at a time," he says. "I take a little cooker with me, a tent, some food in a cool bag. The phone's turned off, and I'm untouchable for 48 hours. Mentally, it is a total release."

Don't imagine, however, that this lakeside idyll serves as a counterpoint to the hectic training routine of a man with 10 athletics events to maintain. It sounds, in fact, more like event number 11.

"Some people like to set their rods up and just hang around, but that's not me," Macey says. "I like to be active when I fish. It's a lot of work - adjusting the rods, changing the bait, climbing up trees to look at the water and find the fish. I take a digital camera with me on remote control, so if I catch any whoppers I can film them before I chuck them back. I've had quite a few 20s recently, a 25, a 24..." He's talking about carp, 20lb and upward. "But I haven't had a 30 yet. Not yet."

Some time, Macey knows, a 30lb carp awaits him. It's out there. Like the Olympic gold medal.

At the age of 25, Macey has already earned a place in the record books, not to mention the nation's affections, with his performances in the event Daley Thompson once claimed as his own. He has won silver and bronze at the last two World Championships, missing out on an Olympic medal in between following the controversial reinstatement of the man who eventually took the gold, Estonia's Erki Nool.

But it is the ebullient personality of an Essex boy who still lives and trains on Canvey Island that has made the greatest impact upon the British public.

From the very start of his senior international career, however, one question has always nagged away both at Macey and his many admirers: if he is this good now, what will he be like when he is fully fit?

Macey's silver medal in Seville four years ago was earned despite an arm injury; at the Olympics, he was carrying a similar problem; the following year, in Edmonton, he required five injections on the second day of competition to deal with a groin problem. And last year a torn hamstring prevented him from contesting both the European Championships and, worst of all from his point of view, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

"Over the past 18 months I've had my fair share of bad luck," Macey says. "I've had quite a few people's share, actually. But I can't keep being unlucky. Things are going to brighten up."

What he describes as "a couple of niggles" have persuaded him not to return to competition in the high-profile meeting at Götzis, Austria, at the end of next week, but at the lower key European Cup meeting in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, on 5-6 July.

"This year is about getting my feet back in the door," he says. "I've promised eight and a half million people I'm still going to win the Olympics, and I'm still going to, but now I just need to be getting back to competing and coming through this year healthy."

Needless to say, looking back with regret to what he might have done last summer is something he is determined not to do.

He does acknowledge, however, that if he had got anywhere near his personal best of 8,603 points, which he set in his last competition at the Edmonton World Championships, he would have won European silver and, by a huge margin, Commonwealth gold.

Some of Macey's chagrin at missing a major championship on home soil was eased by the fact that he took the opportunity to make his debut as a television analyst, appearing morning, noon and night as part of the BBC commentary team at Manchester.

"It was great," he acknowledges. "I never know what I'm going to say next, and sometimes when I watched myself back I would say to myself: 'You pillock, Macey'. But I've had some good reactions from some of the people round here. I'd love to do it again."

British athletics followers will be hoping fervently that that particular ambition of Macey's is frustrated for a decade at least as he returns to the arena where his most special gift can shine.

His recollections of the Commonwealth Games are mixed. He was glad to see his friends Jamie Quarrie and Barry Thomas finish third and fourth, but he found life as a decathlon spectator deeply frustrating. "I don't like doing it, and I don't like watching it," he says. "There's no pleasing me."

What would please Macey, however, would be an injury-free 2003. And he would not turn down an Olympic title come next year.

"What would I have done with an Olympic gold and a million pounds at the age of 22?" he asks, reflecting on bygone chances. "It would have left me with nothing else to do."