To win the national decathlon championship, in case you are thinking about doing that and wondering what to wear, you could do worse than begin with the kind of wardrobe Bill Toomey packed down to Los Angeles last week in two large, soft vinyl bags. The bags were nice and roomy because Toomey needed to get in his four extra sweat suits, his extra socks, extra T shirts, shorts and protective garments and eight pairs of track shoes variously studded with track-grabbing treads. He said he did not need a pair for each of the 10 events because he could double up on a couple, but just to be triply sure he had extra spikes for the shoes. He also had starting blocks, a pole for vaulting, a javelin for throwing and a 16-pound shot for putting. Then there was some stick spray for his hands so he would not drop the 16 pounds on his toe and some lighter fluid to activate the adhesive wrapping around the pole handle to keep him from shinnying down it on the way up. Finally, for a lively, lovelier him, there were vitamins, minerals and muscle-relaxant pills and prescription sun-glare contact lenses.
The accouterments of the well-turned-out decathlon champion are only as important as the use he gets from them, of course, and it should come as no surprise that Toomey was able to accomplish 47 uniform changes in the two days of competition. Off with this suit, on with that one. Off with these shoes, on with those. Not all the changes were necessary but they afforded a good way for the 28-year-old schoolteacher with the walleyes and the proud chin to fidget himself warm on a raw, gray weekend in Los Angeles, a city that as a regular feature of life offers some of the most backward weather patterns in the world.
Except for the weather and for the fact that he is a practicing perfectionist who would not be satisfied merely to win his third straight national decathlon title—which is what Toomey did—there was no abiding reason for Toomey to be anxious. Indeed, his success was as foregone as a conclusion can get, mainly because his principal competition—Russell Hodge by name—was out to lunch. Hodge used to live up there with Toomey and the boys in the little house in Santa Barbara that got to be known as Decathlon Manor (SI, June 12), but he had been hurting. He surprised almost everybody by dressing for the competition on the first day at the UCLA track. While loosening up, however, he pulled a muscle in his right leg. "Why this when I had so many other aches and pains to worry about?" he asked morosely, and then was scratched.
Behind Hodge there were a lot of nice fellows trying hard. Even some of these lesser lights fell fast. By the end of the first event, the 100 meters, Roberto Carmona, the Mexican, had a severe muscle pull and was getting his souvenirs packed. And Phil Shinnick, once one of the world's finest broad jumpers, was hobbling and would be through by the time he made one painfully short (13 feet) lob of a jump in his specialty. Jerry Moro, the Canadian champion and a regular at Decathlon Manor, sat on the infield counting sore muscles: "One...two...three...four...five. Five sore muscles." Finally, in the 400 meters, coming into the wind in the stretch, Moro fell to the track and grabbed his left leg. Number six and out.
June 18, 1967
Toomey himself was not in top condition, having irritated the tendons in his right knee. He had rested for two weeks and had been gobbling up those muscle-relaxers to keep from getting tight, and he was so loose he slogged the 100 meters in 11 seconds (he has done 10.3). He was well behind Bill Smith, a Pasadena schoolteacher, who won the dash in 10.6. The crowd in the stands was mostly Bill Smith's relatives—12 of them—and they cheered Smith lustily.
"Now," said Toomey, gritting his capped teeth, "you'll see if Willie A. [that's him] has anything in him."
Toomey gained ground on Smith in the broad jump, a little more in the shot-put, more in the high jump and was still behind by 33 points going into the last event of the first day, the 400 meters. "Smitty's making it tough for me," said Toomey, but he had him now and he knew it. When Smith has to run more than 100 meters he is highly vulnerable. Despite a subpar 49 flat, Toomey went ahead by 99 points (Smith did it in a struggling 52 seconds). Smith's chances for a major upset were thereby scuttled, because he has never been in Toomey's class in four of the five events scheduled for the second afternoon's competition.
Toomey finished in the gloaming the next day with 7,880 points, far below the 8,234 he scored at Salina, Kans. in winning the championship last year. He was not surprised at this and he should not have been discouraged. If the layoff had dulled his sharpness as a runner, he had still done well in some of the technique events (he had an alltime best in the javelin of 219' 11") and neither he nor Hodge made any bones about looking ahead to the international meet in the Los Angeles Coliseum on July 8-9 when they will get their first hard look at Kurt Bendlin of Germany. Last month Bendlin solved their argument about who was No. 1 in the world by becoming No. 1 himself with 8,319 points.
"Besides," said Toomey, "I said I would be satisfied just to beat the 1964 Olympic score, and I did that."
"No you didn't," corrected Hodge. "You missed by seven points." Hodge and Toomey do not let each other win anything orally.
"O.K., I missed it then," said Toomey.
On the second day the battle became one for second place between Smith and Dave Thoreson, and it was important who won out because the first three finishers would qualify for the international meet, the Pan American Games and a subsequent trip to Europe. Since special consideration would have to be given Hodge, anything less than second would not be a desirable location.
Dave Thoreson, like Toomey and Smith, is a schoolteacher. He is also one of the original tenants of Decathlon Manor in Santa Barbara, but he is a breed apart. He is 6'2" and weighs 167 pounds. His chest is concave. He has a theory about all that weight lifting he sees Toomey and Hodge doing: "Some guys can put it on just standing and watching," he says.
As a result, the 20 pounds of muscle he needs to become a legitimate 8,000-point man never gets put on. He is a fun-lover and a very funny man, and always loose, and the astounding thing about him is that he is as fierce a competitor as any of them. He will not concede. And, unlike most of the others, he is no hypochondriac. He ignores his ailments to a fault. His legs are scarred from his bouts with the hurdles, and he goes into competition half the time limping. He insists that "in this game, you've got to finish. It's the name of the game. You don't finish, you forget it."
The meet dragged. The first day's round had taken six hours and Sunday's would take eight and the evening chill was coming on when competition moved into the pole vault, which is always a poky thing anyway.
Thoreson leaned against a rubbing table by the pole-vault pit and assessed his chances to beat Smith with Moro, his roommate and tutor. "I'm 320 points behind," he said. "I need a 15-foot pole vault" (he'd never done 15 feet even in practice) "and it's even money in the javelin. In the 1,500 meters I'll have to do 4:30 to his 4:55. That'll give the edge. I'd say about 69 points." He grinned knowingly.
Smith quit the pole vault at 11'11¾". Thoreson started at that height and moved steadily up until he had cleared 14'7¼". At that point he had the bar raised to 15 feet. He missed twice. "I hate this third-vault deal," he said, and smiled again. "You never know if you're going to miss." Moro was giving him some fast advice: "If you get to the end of the runway and you feel you can't do it, don't. Stop right there."
"All these years I never cleared 15 feet," Thoreson said dreamily. "I think I should have stopped at 14-10."
He looked at the bar for a long time, then came down the runway fast and was up and over at 15 feet. "The hardest fight of my life," he said, and went to look for his javelin. Someone yelled that Toomey had done 220 feet. Thoreson went over and put his arm around Toomey. "Can I use that javelin, Bill?"
Thoreson threw the javelin 190'11", Smith 196'2". Smith's lead was up to 104 points. His blonde wife Margaret began massaging his legs for the 1,500 meters. She said she met Bill when she used to go up to Ohio State University "to see what they had in the way of boys" and had not known anything about track then. "Since we got married everything we eat, drink and do is decathlon," she said.
"She's a great wife," said Jerry Moro. "That's the kind I want."
Smith, who had seen first place run away from him, now envisioned second going, too. "I doubt I can hold it," he said.
A short distance away Toomey and Thoreson were plotting against Smith. "I'll sprint out and you stick behind me," said Toomey. "We'll stay together and if I can do 4:35 you'll be in."
But it was Thoreson who sprinted out. He led Toomey by eight yards after the first quarter, had Smith by 17 seconds at the half and finished in 4:28.3 to Toomey's 4:32.3 and Smith's 5:18.3, and he had second place, 7,524 points to Smith's 7,341.
"I kept saying to myself, 'You can do it, you can do it,' and I was right," said Thoreson. He was elated and would not allow his joy to fade when he got back to his motel and found he could not get his car started. "That's all right," he said to Moro. "I can run to Santa Barbara."