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Thompson cleared 15'5" and on his third try 16'�", after which he executed a wonderful back layout somersault, with grin. This was the moment he knew he was unstoppable. A clean clearance of 16'4�" gave him 1,052 points for the vault, a 152-point lead on Hingsen, and enhanced the possibility of actually approaching 9,000 points.
In the javelin, Thompson's best throw seemed to go too high and stall but still reached 214 feet. He was home now. That was only six inches short of his best. Hingsen congratulated him on his now inevitable win.
Nine thousand points, however, was out of reach. It would take a 4:07.0 1,500, and Thompson's best was 4:20.3, and that was done eight years ago, when he was 18. But a 4:34.8 would let him exceed Hingsen's world record.
At the start his stride was long and lunging. Hingsen and several others drew well ahead, but Thompson passed 1,100 meters in 3:23. A final 400 in 71.8 would do it. But he lumbered into the last curve without surging, and suddenly it was clear that this was no sure record. He looked at the running digital clock at the finish: 4:29, 4:30, 4:31.... The crowd, imploring him, watched it, too. But he made no late dash. Instead, he relaxed further over the final five meters.
The time was 4:35 flat. He had won, but he had missed the world record by a fifth of a second.
And he clearly hadn't gone all out, for he at once ran a jaunty victory lap, putting on a T shirt that said on its front: THANKS AMERICA FOR A GOOD GAMES AND A GREAT TIME; and on the back: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TV COVERAGE?
Thompson loves to consternate. Sometimes that love seems at the heart of his competitive and social method. Well, he sure did it this time. "When will he ever string nine great events like that together again?" asked Canadian heptathlete Jill Ross-Giffen, an old friend of Thompson's but furious at him now. "He could've put that record completely out of Hingsen's reach."
"Hey, all I wanted to do was win," said Thompson when it was over. "There are other times to break the record."
"What now?" he was asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Settling down, kids...."