There is both joy and frustration with being the world's best athlete. For Daley Thompson, winning the decathlon today meant his supreme moment would be celebrated in a stadium emptying rapidly. It also meant that what he had worked an athletic lifetime to hear all of a sudden was possible.
The knot of Britishers had waved the Union Jack and sung "God Save the Queen" at the far end of Lenin Central Stadium when Steve Ovett earlier stood on the victory platform, listening to 102,500 fans applaud a bronze-medal performance that somehow won the 800-meter gold, although Ovett was not distracted from the Olympic hymn and the IOC flag.
With perhaps 10,000 people still there when Thompson mounted the stand -- and most of them silent -- British voices easily could be heard over the band. So Thompson turned from the boycott-inspired ritual and waved warmly to his countrymen. Which was in keeping with his personality.
And during the walk from the platform to the inside of the stadium after the medal ceremony -- normally a rather stilted parade of winners and officials -- Thompson broke from the line and clicked his heels in the air for photographers. Which was even more in keeping with his personality.
Daley Thompson brings a special spark to a troubled Olympics. We can respect an Ovett, who almost works at being boorish and inconsiderate. We treasure a Thompson, who minutes after stepping off the track and during unimaginable confusion managed to spy a friend and shout: "Dinner's still on tonight, I hope."
Thompson delights in telling how Ovett once said to him: "The decathlon consists of nine Mickey Mouse events and one which no decathlete could do properly."
Obviously, that last reference was to Ovett's specialty -- the 1,500 meters.
It is a wonderful line, illustrating both how so many of us feel about the decathlon and Ovett's public personality. But it does not belong to Ovett. Thompson made it up during a press conference, a close friend of his insists.
Like Sebastian Coe and some other perceptive athletes -- including the man he would like to emulate both on and off the track, Bruce Jenner -- Thompson carefully hones his personality. And he feels it more solidly than he does the body that until recently produced the most points in decathlon history.
Thompson trains on junk food. McDonald's hamburgers are almost a daily staple. That and a fruit drink that has more flavor than energy.
Four days shy of 22, Thompson was in his second Olympics. At 17, he finished 18th at Montreal. That is the recent history of the decathlon -- an athlete finishes far behind in one Olympiad and dominates the next. But Thompson did not do to Jenner in 1976 what Jener is supposed to have done to Soviet Nikolai Avilov in '72.
Legend has it the young and impudent Jenner, having been among the also-rans, charged toward winner Avilov and boasted: "Four years from now, "I'm going to whip you." Or some such sass. Of course, Jenner did exactly that.
Even if Thompson had been out of character in Montreal, the gesture would have been hollow, for everyone knew Jenner had programmed his life to leap from the victory stand and into a decathlon of endorsements and television deals.
Jenner was not here but his Olympic record was -- and Thompson seemed to have a fine chance to break it before the competition started Friday. Before today's final five events, many thought not only Jenner's mark of 8,617 points would go but also the world record of 8,649 points set by the boycotting Guido Kratschmer.
Neither fell. Although the last three events were held in balmy weather, the first two were not. Still, Thompson ran well through the rain in the hurdles. And in spite of sloppy conditions, he performed reasonably well in the discus. Friends noticed that attendants carefully dried the ring with towels for the Soviet athletes, but not for Thompson.
Still, reasonably well does not set records. And entering the 1,500 meters, Thompson needed to run about four seconds under his personal best to make Jenner's the second name on the Olympic list and Kratschmer's the second in the world book.
After the pressure of the nine previous events and drastic changes in weather, Thompson decided simply to win the decathlon and be happy as he crossed the finish line rather than try for a record, possibly fail and collapse in agony, anyway.
He finished last in his heat, by nine seconds, with a pace that generated a time of 4:39.9 and loud whistling among the Soviet fans. Thompson did not mind. There will be other Olympics for him. Or so he said this week.
Thompson covets attention as much as any athlete -- and he surely would not turn down any endorsements someone would toss his way. But he considers Olympic competition to be the essence of sport and would like to enter both the 1984 and 1988 games. By that time, he may be in better shape than the Olympics.
"Movies? That's nothing for me now," said Thompson, who joked that it took 12 bottles of mineral water to pass a specimen at the postrace dopping control. "I will remain an athlete, as I still enjoy it. I want to repeat my victory in Los Angeles. I've got a lot of friends in California."
He wintered there for pre-Olympic training.
Thompson's father was a Nigerian -- who died when Daley was 12 -- and his mother was Scottish. He was raised primarily by his Aunt Doreen. She was here for the Games.
He competes whenever and wherever possible, in meets small and large, saying: "Anybody can do a little thing in training. Somebody who competes against somebody else who's better is a better man for doing it."
Few are better than Thompson in the long jump and sprints. He is the third highest-rated long jumper in British history. His 100-meter dash time here was faster than that of the bronze medalist in the open 100.
His decathlon performance here these last two days, 8,495 points, was seventh-best ever. He also holds the second-best mark. He is young enough to own the record book in a few years -- and engaging enough to cause lots of casuasl decathlon fans to enjoy watching him get it.