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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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On a recent weekday evening Bill Toomey, the 1968 Olympic decathlon champion and world-record holder, was having dinner in his new home in Goleta, Calif., near Santa Barbara. Always ebullient, Toomey was in an especially fine mood. In his morning workout at the University of California (Santa Barbara) he had run 330 yards in 33.4, which, he exclaimed more than once between mouthfuls of spaghetti, was "fantastic." His wife, the former Mary Rand, who won a gold medal in the long jump—and set a world record—for Great Britain in the 1964 Olympics, listened patiently for a while. Then, as wives will do, she decided to take her husband down a peg.

"By the way," she said sweetly, "I heard that Russ Hodge did his best ever in the 100 meters. A 10.2, I think."

For years Toomey and Hodge have been rivals in the decathlon and for years Toomey has consistently beaten him. Still, you can always get a rise out of Toomey by suggesting that Hodge has surpassed him in some respect. Now, almost before the words were out of his wife's mouth, Toomey had grabbed a telephone and asked the operator to ring Hodge's number in Los Angeles.

"Hello, Hodge," he said. "I'm ready for you, you hear?"

Toomey was only half serious. He is 32 now, and since winning his gold medal in Mexico City his life-style has drastically changed. Where once Toomey was known in track circles as a sort of international good-humor man, he has now settled down, more or less. Besides a wife, Toomey has an infant daughter, Samantha, and a slobbering Great Pyrenees, Lady Jane. Since last April he has been an executive of The Drackett Company, a division of Bristol-Myers, and he also works for the Peace Corps, the National Food Council, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and both ABC and CBS ("That's got to be a first," says Toomey). One of his duties at Drackett is to make radio commercials for Nutrament. While this has helped Toomey support his family and buy a home, which has a swimming pool and a heated whirlpool bath, it has also ended his career as an amateur athlete. After getting a load of Toomey's Nutrament spiels, the AAU told him he was a professional.

More's the pity, because Toomey still yearns to compete and is still the best decathlete in the world. Before he retired in December 1969, he won five straight AAU championships and set the existing world record—8,417 points. Since then his athletic endeavors have been confined to giving clinics for the Peace Corps and to irregular workouts in Santa Barbara. Toomey wryly refers to himself as the "workout king" and "the best-trained spectator in Santa Barbara."

The track where Toomey trains is located near the Bank of America building, which student protesters burned in 1970, but it is isolated from the campus by a ring of tall eucalypti. The track is quiet and peaceful, the main sounds being the chirping of birds and the thump-thumping of runners' feet. About the only people who work out there regularly are a few hippies, members of the Santa Barbara track team, an occasional professor and the decathletes who have come from all over the world to train with Toomey, who is considered the guru of the event. With the recent addition of Rumania's Andrei Sepsy, the first Iron Curtain athlete ever allowed to train in this country, there are now a dozen decathletes from six countries working out in Santa Barbara. Among them are Barry King of England, Jerry Moro and Gordon Stewart of Canada, Louie Jourdan of Ireland and Dan Denache of Haiti.

Before a workout Toomey is generally loose and laughing, but let someone pull out a stopwatch or a tape measure and his competitive juices start flowing. Besides his "fantastic" 330, Toomey has lately done a 9.5 in the 100, with no blocks; was under 21 in the 220, with a running start; high-jumped 6'5", vaulted 13'9" and ran a 440 in 46.8.

"I think it would only take me three weeks to get in good enough shape to go over 8,000 points in the decathlon," he says. "I guess if guys had exceeded my score and were far superior athletes, I might be content to sit back and watch them peck at my records. But this country hasn't really produced anybody who can beat me. So how can I go out on the track and knock off some good times and not wish I were still eligible? It's kind of tragic, isn't it?"

Sometimes Toomey gets so carried away by the tragedy of it all that he entertains the idea that the AAU might be persuaded to restore his eligibility. His hopes were raised last December when he was allowed to run a 300 in San Francisco. Matched against three other Olympic gold medalists, all over 30, Toomey won easily in 32.8.

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