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William F. Reed
April 12, 1971
Bill Toomey says it's kind of tragic, being the best decathlete in the world and (sob!) not being allowed to compete
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April 12, 1971

The Ineligible Married Man

Bill Toomey says it's kind of tragic, being the best decathlete in the world and (sob!) not being allowed to compete

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"The AAU calls me Joe Commercial," he says, "but I don't feel like that because I really do something for Drackett. When I was hired, I told them I didn't want a job where I was just a trophy, because that's strictly a no-future thing. So I'm an executive and also one of their main advertising figures. It's not a typical endorsement scene where you say somebody else's words for a product you don't use. I actually used Nutrament when I was at the University of Colorado and I studied journalism. I studied to do what I'm doing now, so I feel I'm pretty legit. But you know the AAU. They want the amateur athlete to be so protected from what happens in real life that he becomes unprepared for anything that isn't measured in time or distance. So now I'm the man without a country in sports. Wonder if Canada needs a good decathlon man?"

After a few moments of such bittersweet reverie, Toomey will laugh and apologize. "I don't mean to sound like sourgrapes," he says. "I really have reconciled myself to the fact that I probably won't compete again." For Toomey this might be easier than it would be for some, because he not only achieved almost all of his athletic goals but had a good time doing it.

"I was interviewed once and this guy asked me about the grueling decathlon," he says. "Well, hell. Grueling. I've never really thought about it that way. I've always enjoyed the decathlon and I think this might have been the key to my success. There are too many athletes who don't really enjoy their sport."

Toomey has worked up his joyous life and times as an itinerant decathlete into what could serve as a passable nightclub act. The heroes of Toomey's routine are usually himself, 'naturally, and Dave Thoreson, decathlete, schoolteacher, cohort. Some of his funniest stories are those that convey his sense of outrage at the various idiocies of the AAU. One night last month Toomey climbed into his whirlpool, parked a bottle of Red Mountain Vin Rosé nearby and told the one about the AAU's uniform rule.

"This was in 1967, when we went to Winnipeg for the Pan-Am Games," he began. "There was a guy named Larry Young, who was a walker, and he was Thoreson's pal. We went to get our uniforms—you have to wear your travel uniform to travel in, according to AAU rules—and, really, Young's uniform would have fit Jackie Gleason. When you consider that Young is a little guy, about 5'8", 130, he looked like a used-clothes salesman who wasn't doing so well. He had his pants doubled over and a rope holding them up, just so he could obey the AAU rules, right?

"So we got off the plane and here was Thoreson having a heavy conversation with these guys at the terminal. All of a sudden I see Young being interviewed by Thoreson's pals. 'Hi, there, Bill,' they say, 'how do you feel?' Hmmm, I thought, that guy isn't Bill. I'm Bill. That's Larry. Then I realized that Thoreson has passed off this little guy in baggy pants as me. So here was Larry Young being interviewed by the Canadian press about the decathlon and Thoreson is lying on the floor laughing. If somebody wants an interview, Thoreson always will oblige."

Then there's the one about the weight men trying to live on the AAU meal allowance, then $2, now $3 a day. This story is usually told in a deep voice, with a Slavic accent of indeterminate origin.

"In 1969, on my last big trip for the AAU," Toomey said, "two weight men, Jon Cole and George Frenn, took film all during our little junket. They said they were going to make an international gangster movie, so they kept shooting each other coming out of banks, wearing Clyde hats, hustling chicks. It was sort of like James Bond Comes to Muscle Beach. One of their props was this rather realistic rubber gun.

"Well, we got to Warsaw, and all of a sudden these guys were in trouble. They couldn't get enough protein on $2 a day to keep their weight up. They would drop from 270 to 255 and tell each other they looked like skeletons. There are all kinds of things you can do on $2 a day, you know. Like making a phone call or buying an ice cream cone.

"Finally, John Pennel and I got a CARE package from home that had some cheese and other protein in it. Frenn and Cole tried to con us out of it, but we wouldn't give. They brought out the rubber gun and tried to hold us up. Well, Cole threw the gun to Frenn and he missed it and it went out the window of my room on the 11th floor of the Metropol Hotel. We looked out and here's this gun lying in the middle of the street. Guns are illegal in Poland, you know. Then, while we're watching, here comes this guy in a raincoat, ambling along in Spy Gear, salivating over the gun. He went into Getaway Gait, which is faster than Spy Gear, and he made this box around the gun. Finally, when he was about 30 yards down gun, he swooped in, put the gun in his coat and ran off. We couldn't believe it. The worst thing was, here was a real spy scene, and Frenn and Cole didn't even film it. They got our cheese, though. Those guys aren't as thick as they look."

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