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With World Youth champs on the horizon, recalling Thompson’s first major title - Donetsk 2013

Daley Thompson carrying the Olympic torch (Getty Images)Daley Thompson carrying the Olympic torch (Getty Images) © Copyright
Donetsk, which hosts next year’s IAAF World Youth Championships, will be forever in the memory of Ukraine’s greatest athlete Sergey Bubka, whose indoor World Pole Vault record of 6.15m, the highest achieved indoor or out, was set there in 1993.

But another of the world’s greatest athletes harbours treasured memories of this Ukrainian city – Britain’s legendary decathlete Daley Thompson, who at one point in his career was World, Olympic, European and Commonwealth champion, plus World record holder.

For it was in Donetsk, at the last major international championship to be held there, the European Juniors of 1977, that Thompson got the first big gold of his career.

The Briton had already made an Olympic appearance – he was 18th at the 1976 Montreal Games – and set three consecutive World junior records before he arrived at the European Juniors, where he also finished fifth in the Long Jump.

Thompson’s winning Decathlon total of 7647 points was less than his World junior record, but that was of relatively little importance given the two factors he had overcome to earn the gold – the first of which was calamitous weather, and the second of which was a mountainous opponent against whom he would vie at the highest levels for a decade.

That opponent, all 6ft 7in of him, was the West German athlete Jurgen Hingsen.

Thirty five years after that first competition, the two rivals met up outside the London 2012 Olympic stadium to reminisce – at the behest of the Daily Mail.

Thompson recalled how he had first seen Hingsen when they travelled on a bus to Bremen for a long jump competition.

"Oh yeah, I was worried by him," Thompson said. "We had the European junior champs the next year, didn’t we, big fella? In Donetsk. That was 1977."

The Briton also recalled with Hingsen the big storm on the second day of the decathlon – "thunder and lightning!" – that had forced the javelin competition to be halted. "You asked to go in and I was happy to stay out," Thompson added.

Reflecting on their long-time rivalry, Hingsen said: "We hated each other. This guy called me 'Hollywood Hingsen.’ He put my picture on the toilet, stuff like that. He thought he was God’s greatest gift."

Thompson added, with characteristic modesty: "And now, looking back, I was telling the truth…"

That first meeting in Donetsk set the tone for their encounters at Olympic, World and European level over the next ten years.
Hingsen didn’t compete in 1980 Moscow Games, where Thompson earned his first Olympic title. But he was fit and ready – and World record holder - when the 1984 Los Angeles Games arrived, and his target was the gold he felt he might have had four years earlier.

At the time, Thompson commented: "There are only two ways he is going to take the gold medal home. He’ll have to steal mine or win another event."

In the end, Hingsen had to settle for silver as Thompson produced perhaps the supreme performance of his career.

Between 1980 and 1984, Thompson and Hingsen set three World records each, with Thompson having the final word when his 1984 Olympic winning total of 8,798, equalling Hingsen’s World record, was re-valued to 8,847 following the introduction of the new system of scoring which now operates. Hingsen’s mark was adjusted to 8,832.

But if Hingsen managed to break Thompson’s records more than once, he never found a way to defeat his opponent in competition. Thompson beat him in every one of their meetings between 1979 and 1987.

Years later Hingsen paid tribute to the Briton’s strength of mind: "As for Daley’s mental ability, well---he could also pull something out of his pocket."

It was usually a gold medal.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF