Daley Thompson and J√ºrgen Hingsen of West Germany were both training in California last March, only 120 miles apart. At the end of one workout Hingsen tells a man with a notebook, "We have a problem. If you write certain things, Daley might read them." It's odd to hear Hingsen, the 228-pound, 6'6¾" world-record holder fretting over anything or anyone. At 26, he could hardly be more imposing: on his record of performance; in his obvious strength of character; in the flesh (of course); and in the improbable things he can do with all that poundage and height. He has high-jumped 7'1¾", 1½ inches higher than Thompson's best. And he has done 4:12.3 in the 1,500-meter run, eight seconds faster than Thompson. But Thompson beats him in the sprints and the pole vault, and one day at the University of California at Santa Barbara, as Hingsen was preparing to sprint, a Finnish runner came by and said, "I ran the hundred against Daley last week. He won in 10.36. It was a personal record."
Hingsen seemed surprised. He said, "I couldn't run my best time now, because I'm training very hard." Later, recovering after his last sprint, he said, "Sometimes, at the end of a hard session, I do the last one for Daley."
Hingsen didn't need to be reminded of the challenge Thompson will pose at Los Angeles; Thompson has held the world record twice and Hingsen three times in the past 26 months, and at times in that span Thompson has seemed like a specter haunting Hingsen. But at Santa Barbara, Hingsen's life was too full and fine for much worrying about Thompson. He lived with his 21-year-old wife of five months, Jeannie, at a hilltop inn called El Encanto, The Enchanted. Each morning they woke to birdsong and the scent of wisteria blossoms. When they parted for the day, Hingsen joined his coach of nine years, 45-year-old former West German discus thrower Norbert Pixken, Hingsen exchanging Jeannie's adoring eye for Pix-ken's X-ray eye.
One morning, during a 38-minute vaulting practice at UCSB, Hingsen easily cleared 14'9", but Pixken said, "Too soft, too much forward. The highest point should be right above the bar, yet you go higher beyond it." But Pixken's last comment was a compliment, as always. "Besser."
July 17, 1984
On the evening after this vaulting practice, Hingsen was throwing the discus. He sailed it out promisingly 13, 14, 15 times, but it always seemed to die. A local college athlete was throwing with him, a slimmer and less powerful-looking man, and yet his throws were going farther than Hingsen's. Pixken kept gesturing that Hingsen's throwing arm was too low as it whipped around—either that, or he was being told to keep it down. Could it be a scam? Would Hingsen accidentally get off a "real" throw in one of these workouts, 30 or 40 feet farther? Or was that one of the "certain things" that Thompson might read?
Later, Hingsen was deep in concentration in the weight room. Suddenly, he put down a pair of 40-pound dumbbells, walked to an open door and, displaying one of the more dazzling smiles in sports, called back, "Look, the sunset...."
That was the Hingsen who put on cowboy boots and a cowboy hat one night two years ago and went to Pepper's, a Santa Barbara disco. Jeannie, a local girl whose first idol had been Bruce Jenner, took one look at Hingsen and, as she recalls the moment now, "It was 10:52 p.m., Friday, March 12, 1982. My Rhine cowboy had the bluest eyes in the world.
"The next day I went to the UCSB track, hid in the bushes and watched his workout. He was jumping hurdles, without a shirt. It was the most magnificent sight I'd ever seen."
They were married in a D√ºsseldorf, West Germany church. Seventy people were invited, but more than 1,500 showed up to gawk. That sort of popularity bodes well for Hingsen's future. He's thought of starting a career in TV sports announcing, but first come the Olympics and another year of study at the University of Cologne so he can complete the requirements for his diplomas in sports education and geography.
Hingsen started in track and field at age 10 in his hometown of Duisburg, which is near D√ºsseldorf. He'd grown too tall for his first sport, gymnastics, but it had made him limber, he says, and given him a sense of movement. By the time he was 14, he was already 6'3". At 17, he entered and won his first decathlon and was immediately ranked seventh in the nation. That's when Pixken, then a coach for 23 years with the giant chemical concern, Bayer-Werke, offered him membership on one of the company's three teams, Bayer Uerdingen. Hingsen would get training, expense money, and what Pixken calls "the life of a professional, without the paycheck." Hingsen, with access to the better training facilities at Bayer-Werke—his Duisburg club didn't even have a pole-vault pit—was on his way.
In 1980, Bayer sent coach and decathlete to Santa Barbara for the first time. Hingsen returned to West Germany and made the Olympic team, but then his country became one of the 54 nations to boycott the Moscow Games. Still, the year wasn't a total loss. Hingsen had found the perfect training base, and in a few years he would meet his Jeannie there.
In California, for variety, Hingsen often trains at Westmont College, in Montecito. On this afternoon he's throwing the javelin, short throws at first, up and down the field. Pixken makes quick, twisting movements with his hips and says, "Do it this way. Throw more with the left side; the right doesn't do anything if you forget the left."
Then they move to the long-jump runway, and Hingsen practices approaches, hopping on one leg and then on the other. It's strenuous work, and then he starts doing long, leaping strides, which are equally punishing. Finally he groans, "How many more sets?"
"Look at the paper," Pixken says, gesturing towards a workout schedule lying on the grass.
"O.K., the paper says two," Hingsen says, but he hadn't looked.
"No, it says five." Pixken hadn't looked, either.
The paper actually says three. They seem to be playing a little game, almost as if they're waiting for the visitors to leave before they get serious.
Later, in the weight room, Hingsen hangs from the chinning bar, cycling with his legs. Pixken is counting the repetitions."...17, 18, 19, 20...."
"Enough," Hingsen says.
Everyone begins to laugh.
Before the visitors leave, Pixken says, "On the days you were here we didn't show any secrets. You know nothing that Daley doesn't know."