Toomey Puts the Decathlon into Perspective
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".
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."
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
Q. How have the decathlon and pentathlon
competitions changed since you set the world records in the
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!"
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
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."
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!"
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.
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."
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.
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
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."
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
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."
New York Times
American Games, Winnipeg