Yet, Dvor�k argues, "I'm not fast, and I can't jump very high. I don't have any great ability. I just take the ability that I have and make the most of it." The decathlete of the past he admires most is J�rgen Hingsen, the 6'7", 220-pound German behemoth who was the world-record holder in the early and mid-1980s, and who also was not naturally fast but trained ferociously. "I admire those who really had to fight for it, who weren't just talented," Dvor�k says. He pointedly does not mention 1980 and '84 Olympic gold medalist Daley Thompson of Great Britain or O'Brien, the two men who held the world record before him. Clearly, he feels both were blessed with great natural ability.
Dvor�k is almost resentful of O'Brien's gifts, perhaps because in four tries he has never beaten O'Brien. "If you add up our personal bests, O'Brien would score almost 9,600 points [actually 9,542], and I would score only 9,200 [9,232]," says Dvor�k. "Yet I have scored 100 more points than he has. How can that be? It's because I have trained harder than he has."
It's true that O'Brien's greatest weapon (and also Huffins's) is speed, a fundamental strength that helps in many of the 10 events. O'Brien has run 10.32 seconds for 100 meters and Huffins a decathlon-record 10.22, both of which are borderline world-class sprint times. Each can high-jump well over seven feet. Yet both have dead spots, primarily in the javelin and the 1,500 meters. Athletes like O'Brien, Huffins and Thompson build leads with their strongest events and don't worry much about their weaker ones. Dvor�k, meanwhile, cranks out one solid performance after another, each within percentage points of his PR in that event. When he set his world record, he established a remarkable five personal bests. His score equals 97.4% of the maximum he could have from all his personal bests. "People look at O'Brien and see all that talent, and then they look at Dvor�k and they see a training machine," says Frank Zarnowski, a professor of economics at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., and a renowned authority on the decathlon. "With Dvor�k, there's no place where the guy is shaky."
Huffins, who spent three weeks training with Dvor�k in Australia last December ("It opened my eyes to my capacity for hard work," says Huffins), puts it more bluntly: "You compete against Tom�s, you get no breaks because die guy has no weaknesses."
O'Brien got the news of Dvor�k's world record while watching die bottom-screen crawl on ESPN2 at his house in Moscow, Idaho. "It shocked me because I didn't think he had it in him," says O'Brien, 34, "but I sat there watching the marks go by, and I'm thinking, Hmmm, that's a pretty good 100, not a bad long jump, solid shot, and so on until it all added up to a world record."
Dvor�k is now dangerously close to training himself out of the category of no-talent grinder. Nine thousand points is the next great milestone in the decathlon, and Dvor�k needs only to improve by six points to get there. Had he run the 1,500 one second faster in Prague, he would have made it. He has run the 100 meters in 10.54 and long-jumped 26'4�" inches, which would have been good for third place at die U.S. nationals long jump in 1999. His high jump PR is 6'10�" and climbing. A hurdler before taking up the decathlon, he has run a near-world-class 13.6 for the 110-meter hurdles. His javelin is spectacular, and his closing 1,500 is a killer.
These attainments leave opponents skeptical of Dvor�k's purported lack of talent. "He's a good guy and he works very hard, but he's also got tremendous natural strength in his hips and lower abdominals," says Huffins. "All that no-talent stuff is a ploy."
O'Brien says, "He's driven, but take a look at some of those numbers: 26 feet in the long jump, 55 feet in the shot put, 10.5 for 100 meters. Come on, that's talent, too. I think of him as a Dave Johnson [of Dan versus Dave fame] with speed. And I always said if Dave Johnson had speed, he could have been the best decathlete in history."
From the beginning Dvor�k has viewed himself as a solitary hustler. He was raised in Zlin, a city of 120,000 that lies 200 miles southeast of Prague. His father, Petr, an electrical engineer, and his mother, Hana, a high school gym teacher and former club volleyball player, raised Tom�s and his younger sister in a comfortable apartment where Tom�s kept fish, gerbils, turtles, cats and, eventually, a stray dog. The family owned a small second home in the mountains near the border of Slovakia, so Tom�s became a competent skier. In team sports he was skilled but uninterested. "He didn't want to compete in any sports that used balls," says Hana. "I liked to represent only myself," says Tom�s. "I didn't like to depend on teammates. If they forced me to play soccer, I would be the goalkeeper, because I liked the loneliness."
In the Czech equivalent of junior high, Dvor�k began competing in track and field, which appealed to his athletic independence. He showed promise in die hurdles, yet as he progressed, his greatest strength was his versatility. "In many events there were four or five boys better than me," he says, "but I could do all of the disciplines fairly well. Just like now." He also rebelled against authority in ways that are reminiscent of 1950s America. He wore leather jackets and an earring and began smoking; he fought with classmates and adults. "One day he no longer tolerated authority," says Hana. "That became his way of expressing himself."