Daley Thompson repays debt of gratitude on 40th anniversary of 1980 Olympic gold

Daley Thompson calls it his Sliding Doors moment, the decision which enabled him to become Olympic champion 40 years ago today.

Thompson would go on to cement a reputation as Britain’s greatest male all-round athlete, winning gold at successive Games as well as one Worlds, two Europeans and three Commonwealths.

But none of that may have happened but for an act of defiance by Sir Denis Follows, then chairman of the British Olympic Association.

That is Thompson’s own belief, recalling a glittering career which he also attributes to sharing the stage with Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram.

“I know for sure that had it not been for Coe, Ovett and Cram I wouldn’t be anywhere near as famous as I am,” he said.

“My sport didn’t even make the newspapers in the end of the ‘70s. But more than anything I owe half of my life to the BOA.”

Without Follows, the 71-year-old administrator who steadfastly defied the Thatcher government’s instruction to boycott Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, the launching pad for a golden generation of British athletics would have been lost.

“Sir Denis said he was in a position to take a team and because of that typical old-fashioned, British stiff upper lip, he did," said Thompson.

“That was the start of making my life, as it were. Had I not gone, who knows…it was one of those Sliding Doors moments.”

Sixty-five nations would stay away from Moscow and it was an uneasy time for the Brits that went.

But Follows held firm, despite a letter from the Prime Minister warning that “without the Americans and West Germans and the other sporting countries who have also decided to stay away, the Games will not be worthy of the name Olympic, and medals won will be of inferior worth and the ceremonies a charade”.

In the midst of the debate Coe had a swastika daubed on his garage door but believes the decision to go would have been tougher for the athletes had the government’s response to the invasion been “more robust”.

Instead, he recalls, that “while we were being told we shouldn’t go, pipe deals were being signed with BP and Russia and the Bolshoi ballet or opera had arrived in London.

“It just seemed a rather disproportionate response to target sport.”

To this day Thompson, now a Laureus Academy member, has not watched back his decathlon performance which brought victory by 164 points ahead of two Soviet rivals.

He was only 21 yet already the world record holder. He top scored in three of the first five events and was never threatened. He would remain unbeaten for the next seven years.

“Moscow changed my life because 40 years on I can go out on the street and people of a certain age will say: ‘Hey, I know you’.

“It’s amazing to me that people still remember, but I’m grateful that they do.”

Since 2000, Laureus has used the power of sport to help change the lives of almost six million children and young people

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