In 1988, not long after his 16th birthday, Tom�s was invited to attend school in Prague. It would mean leaving his hometown and his parents and living in a dormitory attached to a stadium, but he jumped at the chance. "People were no longer fond of me in Zlin," he recalls. "Once I was in Prague, I was homesick for only two days." He met Vana, a former sprinter who agreed to become his coach, and began dating Vana's daughter, Gabriela, a long jumper. Vana helped Dvor�k train for the hurdles but didn't fight his urge to attempt more events. Dvor�k progressed steadily. In '93 he finished 10th in the decathlon world championships, and in '95 he was fifth. One year later he got the bronze medal in Atlanta. He won world titles in '97 and last year.
In contrast to his athletic consistency, there remains a quirkiness to his personality. Before major competitions he dyes his hair blond, not to attract attention, he says, but to motivate himself. "I'm no Rodman," he says. "After I change my hair, I look in the mirror and see a different face and then I'm ready to compete."
Two weeks after the 1996 Olympics, Tom�s married Gabriela. They live with their twin three-year-old daughters, Barbara and Katerina, in an apartment near Stadion Strahov, tire mammoth soccer arena where Dvor�k broke the world record last July. (Dvor�k is building a six-bedroom house not far from there.) His wife and parents were present for the record, and they were shocked after the competition to find that Tom�s was disappointed. Sure, he was happy to win, but he was sorry he had fallen short of 9,000. "I needed so few more points," he said.
That attitude is at the core of his being. On the night following his rain-soaked high jump session, Tom�s is sitting with his wife and children along the river beneath the Charles Bridge in the section of Prague called Mala Strana, Czech for Lesser Town, a warren of 17th-and 18th-century buildings in the shadow of Prague Castle. A writer gives Dvor�k a hypothetical choice between winning an Olympic gold medal and being the first to score 9,000 points. He scratches his beard and then says, "I would rather score 9,000 points." Gabriela's eyes widen at this admission. ( O'Brien and Huffins will later have similar reactions.) "Of course I want to win the Olympic Games," he explains, "but so many people can win a competition on a particular day. If I score 9,000 points, that shows what I have done with my talent."
Just then his daughter Barbara rises and walks toward the river. Tom�s pulls her away from the water, and she resists. She begins slugging her father, whacking him about the head and chest as he carries her. As a last resort she kicks him in the thigh, but still he won't let her wander. Spent, the little girl gives up and sits, like so many of her father's opponents, unable to find a weakness.