A year from today (July 27) we will be enjoying the opening ceremony at London 2012 – and the debate is already under way over who should light the Olympic flame that signals the start of the Greatest Show on Earth.
Most sports fans agree it must surely be an Olympian and it is hard to argue that the honour should go to Britain’s greatest ever Olympian. But who will get the vote?
The early favourite with the bookmakers has been five-times Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave, a sporting icon and an inspirational role model in every sense. I am one of his biggest fans and I never tire of reminding anyone who will listen of his incredible sporting achievements every time I walk past his larger than life statue at the riverside park in his home town of Marlow, a stone’s throw from my office.
But there is another living legend who I believe just pips Sir Steve as Britain’s greatest ever Olympian – a true sporting superman who had a habit, some would say a gift, of alienating the media but always remained the people’s champion.
Sir Steve Redgrave: 5 Olympic Gold medals
For me Daley Thompson is our ultimate Olympic hero. Not just because of the way he won spectacular back to back gold medals in Moscow and LA in the most gruelling athletics event of them all, the decathlon. But there is something extraordinary about a man who at his peak did not lose a decathlon for nine years.
The son of a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, who was brutally killed in a shooting before Daley became a teenager, he had the supreme strength of character to never care what the media thought of him.
“Objectionable, charmless and rude,” is how a Times reporter once described him. While Colin Hart wrote, in The Sun, in 1992, “There was a two-year period when I refused to speak to him. I couldn’t take his overpowering arrogance or his rudeness, particularly to the public. There were many times when, in his prime, he would use four-letter words to children and old ladies if they asked for his autograph.”
The truth is the public loved Thompson because he was a real-life superhero and the fact that media people with over-inflated egos and delusions of self-importance could not bully him made them love him even more. Personally, I never had a problem in my brief dealings with Daley when I was a young sports reporter for ITV in London. But show a man respect and he has no reason to abuse you.
In my book Daley is the greatest and I can think of no sporting conquest at any Olympics in my lifetime to top the pure theatre and drama of Thompson’s successive triumphs at Moscow in 1980 and then four years later in Los Angeles.
But I’ll leave the final word to Lord Coe another of our great Olympic athletes from a golden era of athletics who says: ‘He’s my mate, but I also believe he’s the greatest Olympian we’ve ever delivered.”