A key moment came in the discus on day two, after two poor throws, as he hurled it over 46 metres to overtake event-leader Hingsen in dramatic fashion.
“It was like I went to the cliff and looked over the edge,” he declared. Hingsen had closed to within 32 points but his challenge faltered in the next event – the pole vault.
Incredibly, Thompson felt Hingsen’s inability to push him all the way, despite posting the best losing score in decathlon history, affected his own tally.
“Before the pole vault, I thought I had a chance of scoring 9,000,” said the winner. “But after Jurgen went out at such a low height, my real interest kind of diminished and I was just trying to get through with the least possible effort.”
It’s an extraordinary statement and one that sounds a little at odds with the showman’s ideals. Yes, Thompson didn’t over-exert himself in his least favourite event – the 1,500 metres – but he may have just been teasing the press, even if admitting all he wanted to do was win and not break the world record.
Thompson was probably closer to the truth when revealing: “Once we finally got into the Olympic atmosphere here, my motivation level rose to what it had been when I first started. And the last couple days I had the biggest buzz of my life.”
Attracting the headlines after scooping gold, he attended the press conference wearing a T-shirt that asked: ‘Is the world’s second-greatest athlete gay?” in reference to American idol Carl Lewis. He also joked that he’d like to have Princess Anne’s babies after the royal was amongst the crowd and greeted him after his triumph.
Always engaging and justifiably cocky, it would be easy to under-estimate his influence. This was a star in every sense of the word and he was at his very best in Los Angeles.
“I struggled financially, a lot of us did,” he recalled. “But the struggle was worth it. And because we came at the end of the time of the amateur, we were still steeped in that philosophy. We wanted to do it for the glory, for the flag, to put Britain on the map, not for the fast cars and the faster ladies. Mind you, there wasn’t any of that around: I’d have done it for that if there was!”
That is Daley Thompson down to a tee – a wonderful world-class athlete and a character and headline-grabber away from the track.
What happened next?
After retiring in 1992, he played professional football for Mansfield Town and Stevenage Borough and is now an official ambassador for the 2012 Olympics. Just don’t describe him as a legend. “Legends are either in wheelchairs or dead,” he reasoned.