Bill Toomey Puts the Decathlon into Perspective

Q. What does it take to be a world-class competitor in the decathlon?
Toomey: "Whatever pursuit you undertake, the requirements should start with a love of what it is that you are pursuing. Once you have selected a sport or a creative activity, the rules are pretty much the same. One of the key elements is the ability to be honest with yourself. Too many athletes do not admit their weaknesses. In order to continue achieving, one must have discipline and adhere to a program. Many athletes do not have a well thought out map on where they are going and how they will ultimately get there".

Q. What kind of advice would you give to a young athlete who wants to pursue the decathlon?
Toomey: "I have already mentioned discipline, but add to that thought another element -- patience. Too many athletes don't have the ability to set a goal and then carefully go towards it. If it were easy, it would have no value. The journey towards excellence is truly exciting. Don't think of the ultimate moment on the victory stand at the Games. Realize that from the start, every activity that comprises the journey has value and the ability to teach you something. Actually, the moment of victory is wonderful, but also sad. It means that your trip is ended. Better to realize that for the interim years that you will discover who you really are and what you are made of. It is always possible to improve. Too many athletes have an emotional quotient in regards to their love of sport, it is equally important to be a 'thinking' athlete. Delve into the science of movement (biomechanics). Understand from top to bottom what the effort requires. I had a philosophy that I termed 'bag of tricks.' There is no one magic move or secret that creates victory, but lots of little items that when added together can make you victorious."

Q. Why have American decathlon athletes received so little public attention or support in the last several years?
Toomey: "Track and Field has undergone a tremendous loss of spectatorship. The fact that it is no longer televised regularly adds to the dimension of anonymity current in today's' market. I believe it will regain its popularity, but in order to do that, we need new superstars and also better exposure. It's hard to support an event that takes two full working days to complete. I have competed before empty stadiums a lot in my career. At the end of the first day in Mexico City, it was cold, dark, rainy, and on top of that the stadium was empty!"

Q. How have the decathlon and pentathlon competitions changed since you set the world records in the late 60's?

Toomey: "When I competed, it was for honor and country. It was a privilege to be a part of the U.S. team. I think that money has changed my sport. I'm glad that athletes can now survive, but am worried that the fast money will not last and the need for a career -- long term -- is critical. Decathlon athletes will not get big money, but they will get the biggest challenge in track and field!"

Q. When you were competing, little information was available on the affects of drugs and the first "doping" tests were being introduced. What went through your mind when you first started to understand the impacts of the use of ergogenic aids?
Toomey: "During the 60's, drug use was in fashion in the U.S. The introduction of anabolic steroids was not part of that adventure. Athletes were initially told that these muscle-building drugs did not work, and when they did improve the athletes, the fact that athletes were lied to about the effect bled over to not believing the potential harm. There was little research on the use of these substances; so many athletes used them without knowing about the 'down side' of these drugs. Anabolic steroids were not banned until after the 72 Olympics. The Olympic administrators did not want to believe that this was part of their movement. It is a cancer that has severely disabled the entire Olympic Movement."

Q. What is your position on drug testing in athletics in general, and in the Olympics in particular?
Toomey: "We have made drugs an Olympic event. It receives most of the coverage at the Games and even the suspicion of guilt can ruin a reputation for life. I think I would use a lie detector test instead of the expensive testing protocols that don't seem to get the job done. I realize that the Olympic family is trying, but I think we have made so much of it that we have weakened the view that people once had for the Games. I would definitely suggest the lie detector test!"

Q. What do you see as the most important improvements in athletic training and fitness in recent years?
Toomey: "There are many exciting factors that have influenced and upgraded performance. The East Germans first used biomechanics. This meant that rather than guessing about technique and form, they could apply changes to athletic performance based on science. It dramatically upgraded the East Germans. They became so potent, that they became one of the top powers in track and field and swimming in the years following 1972.

"Nutrition is also a valuable component that can help athletes both protect themselves and improve performance. An athlete who gets sick fewer days can train more and therefore be better! I have read many studies out of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and they demonstrated that Vitamin E, Co-Q-10, and Fish Oil could protect the immune system of athletes and prevent disease."

Q. What's your advice to "retired" athletes looking to get back in shape?
Toomey: "First I would use the staircase approach to training. Start modestly, and then begin to increase both the time and intensity of your program.

"Begin with a month of walking. Start with 15 minutes and build every other day until you get to a half hour. Include cardiovascular, resistance and stretching as you progress in you dedicated program. A key factor is to do training that is fun. If you like what you're doing, you will be better at it. Also, find a buddy to work with. A buddy will keep you honest and add a dimension of fun to your workout!"


Los Angeles, 1969

"Sometimes we forget the really important things of life. And to me, the goals and values that were taught to me as a young athlete still hold true - the spirit of keen competition and good sportsmanship."
Bill Toomey

"There are many standards of greatness and it is a matter of opinion whether Bill Toomey is the greatest decathlon man who has ever lived. How does one measure greatness? Toomey competed in ten decathlons in 1969 and scored over 8000 points in seven of them. In his last three he averaged 8321 and no other man has ever done it once."
Athletics Weekly
January 1970

On The Sullivan Award 1970: "Toomey should win mainly because he is the class operative in the field. Few, if any, of the others can match his dedication and idealism. His high principles perfectly fit the terms of The Sullivan Award, which annually goes to the athlete adjudged to have "by performance and example done most to advance the cause of good sportsmanship and amateur athletics."
Art Daley
New York Times

Pan American Games, Winnipeg



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