Double Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson on resurrecting his legendary Decathlon game

Plus, who would get HIS nod for Sports Personality of the Year

Double Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson on resurrecting his legendary Decathlon game

To a generation of British athletics fans, double (1980 and 1984) Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Daley Thompson is something of a superhero. A living, breathing Action Man, if you will.

Arguably the finest multi-discipline athlete that this (or, indeed, any sporting nation) has ever produced, Thompson is effortlessly charismatic, highly decorated, and exquisitely mustachioed.

To a generation of home computer enthusiasts, though, Daley Thompson is synonymous with one thing... broken joysticks. You can blame Daley Thompson's Decathlon on the ZX Spectrum for that.

Earlier today, I sat down with Thompson to find out why now was the right time to resurrect his legendary button-mashing sports sim, whether he expressed any remorse over the destruction of so many joystick suction cups, and who his choice for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 would be.

Pocket Gamer: So, what degree of involvement did you have in the development of the 2012 iOS and Android version of Daley Thompson's Decathlon?

Daley Thompson: Strangely enough, the question that's cropped up most over the last 20-odd years when people meet me is "Are you any good at Daley Thompson's Decathlon?"

As soon as I've answered that, they'll then jokingly inform me that I owe them money for a new keyboard. This scenario has played out tens of thousands of times down the years - you can tell there's a fondness for the game.

So, I just thought, 'Why not bring it to a new audience?' To answer your original question, though, I haven't been involved in the development process of this new version too much.

Did you have any direct input in the original ZX Spectrum / C64 edition?

No, I didn't have any input in Ocean Software's version, at all. Beyond endorsing it, of course. As it happens, we were sort of pioneers in that respect.

Daley Thompson's Decathlon was one of the first home computer games to sport an official endorsement. We were treading new ground in what was still a relatively nascent industry. I mean, we couldn't predict how successfully this tie-in game would resonate with consumers.

Shaun White, Tiger Woods, Tony Hawk, John Madden, and Brian Lara have an awful lot to thank me for!

You weren't involved in the development of Elite Systems's version of Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 [which went live on the App Store in August], were you, I believe?

No, I wasn't. Elite actually launched that game without my permission and without the official licence. It asked if I wanted to be involved in the project and I declined. Elite just went ahead and published it, anyway.

Was the original intention to launch Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 [to avoid confusion, we'll refer to the new edition by that name from this point on] in August / September to take advantage of the London 2012 feel-good factor?

We decided not to release Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 during the Olympics for two reasons.

Firstly, we didn't want it get lost in the 'noise' surrounding the Olympic Games. Secondly, it wasn't quite ready by the start of the 2012 Games.

I didn't think there was a huge rush to get it out during the Games, for I knew there would, naturally, be less going on in October and more chance for us of grabbing the public's attention.

Is there a feature or element in Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 of which you are particularly proud?

Well, for starters, I'm the right colour in this edition!

Due to the technical limitations of the day, my on-screen avatar in the ZX Spectum version was actually white. Glad to say, we've fixed that this time around.

I haven't had a chance to check whether we've removed one pesky bug I seem to remember with the high jump event, though. Back in the day, you could successfully complete a jump by going under the bar, you see.

Also, if you threw the javelin too high in the original version, it'd come back with a bird attached.

You mention in the press release for the game that you are "getting pretty good at the new version". Are any of your five children better Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 players than you, though? Who's the champion?

Well, my 19-year-old is better than I am, I'm afraid.

As of yesterday, too, my 11-year-old is nearly as good as I am. And that's despite his posting on Facebook and watching TV at the same time as playing my game.

Do you have any expert tips for Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012?

In the pole vault, wait until you reach the complete vertical before you press the button to let go of the pole.

Which smartphone or tablet devices do you own?

I own an iPhone. In the family home, we have three iPads. The oldest three all have smartphones, while my 11-year-old has an iPod touch.

Do you have a favourite smartphone or tablet game (aside from Daley Thompson Decathlon's 2012, of course)?

Most days, I play this iOS game called Tribes. It's a god game in which you have to build little civilisations.

Ah, I have just downloaded Bad Piggies, too. Am throughly enjoying it.

If Daley Thompson Decathlon's 2012 races to the top of the App Store or Google Play chart [it's #15 on the iPhone Top Paid chart at the time of writing], will you perform one of your famous backflips in your front room?

Only if the appropriate medical attention was available afterwards!

But seriously, I promise to release a proper upgrade to this new version if we do attract sufficient downloads and there's the requisite interest.

We are listening to all the customer feedback on both app stores, and do plan on improving the graphics - bringing it bang up to date - and making the starting jumps / distances for each event more customisable.

Will you consider porting it to other mobile platforms, e.g. Windows Phone, if it does prove a monumental success?

I've been taking advice and direction from Black Company Studios and Blisskiss [the developer and publisher of Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012, respectively] on this, to be honest, for they know much more than I do about the portable gaming industry and monetising smartphone games.

The original Daley Thompson's Decathlon was, of course, a legendary destroyer of rubber keys, space bars, and Quickshot II Autofires. The Daily Mash ran a spoof story during the summer in which 'you' denied responsibility for joysticks broken as a result of playing Daley Thompson's Decathlon. What's the REAL Daley's opinion on this?

Not a single person I've chatted to about the game down the years has been serious about the broken joystick thing; it's all tongue in cheek.

To be honest, everyone just really, really enjoyed it. For its time, remember, it was pretty sophisticated.

Unbeknown to me at the time, by the way, [English rugby union icon] Jonny Wilkinson recently tweeted about the fact he used to play Daley Thompson's Decathlon as a kid.

I tweeted him back with a friendly challenge, of course. Because this new version has Game Center leaderboards, I can easily compare my score to Jonny's. I'd like to think mine will be higher! I have had some decent practice, after all.

I've heard that a new expert panel has been established (to offset criticism over last year's nominees) to decide the ten-person shortlist for BBC's Sports Personality of the Year 2012. Are you on that new-look panel? Which British sportsperson would get your vote this year, regardless?

First off, I'm not on the new panel.

Off the top of my head, I'd pick one of the following four as my Sports Personality of the Year: Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis.

You were one of seven UK Olympic legends asked to nominate a young athlete to light the 2012 flame. Was there any part of you slightly disappointed not to have lit it yourself?

Naturally, it would have been fantastic to have lit the Olympic flame in London. Having said that, to have seven really great kids lighting it and representing the next generation in that fashion was fantastic.

Being involved in the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was phenomenal full stop. I got pretty starstruck myself bumping into legendary British medallists in athletics and others sports in the stadium itself.

Who was YOUR sporting idol growing up?

Muhammad Ali. As far as I am concerned, he IS The Greatest.

In truth, though, I appreciated any sportsperson who was willing to put himself / herself on the line.

Where do you keep your two Olympic gold medals [won in 1980 and 1984]?

I gave them to my training partners. Basically, because they worked harder than I did - all mainly for my benefit - and because I, and they, knew they wouldn't quite reach the same levels I did. I wanted to personally reward them in this way.

Because of the greater financial rewards on offer in football, does any part of you regret pursuing a career in athletics rather than soccer at 17 [Thompson played professional football for Mansfield Town and Stevenage Borough after retiring from athletics]?

To have been the best footballer in the world back in the '80s would have been extremely tough. I realised that at an early age. I always wanted to reach the very top of my profession - whatever profession that may be.

I was fortunate to be blessed with athletic talent, however, so decided to concentrate on sprinting and decathlon. I knew these would present me with a better chance of global success.

Money never came into it - it was all about glory, taking pride in yourself, and representing your country.

'Inspire a generation' was, of course, the motto of London 2012. What role can video games play in inspiring the youth of today to excel and reach their potential, in your opinion?

Sports video games like Kinect Sports and motion-sensing devices like PlayStation Move can introduce kids to basketball, ice hockey, etc., which can only be a good thing.

Providing kids understand there's a difference between what's possible on-screen and what's achievable in real life, then great.

Oh, and that it would be a good idea for the kids to step outside and give the real thing a try from time to time.

From a wider perspective, video games shouldn't be viewed as a competitor by sports authorities - sports and gaming should complement each other more.

Any number of sports could learn from the gaming industry and should partner up with ambitious software developers to help kids get involved more in sport.

Look, once the interest in a sport has been piqued, it's up to the sporting bodies (through leisure centres and local clubs) to convince the gamer to have a crack at the real thing. Take advantage of the opportunity. There's definitely some synergy and overlap.

One final thing: those keep fit games should be made much more entertaining and enjoyable!

Training aids like Nike+ and Adidas's miCoach are becoming increasingly popular among fitness enthusiasts. Can you ever envisage a time when real-life coaches are rendered obsolete by gizmos such as these - in conjunction with apps, games?

Any coach worth his salt should be more than just a training tool for the runner he is looking after. He / She should be a mentor and confidant / confidante, too.

That emotional connection with your coach is important. The trainer has to acknowledge that you're only human, and that you may not be at your best each day and therefore need a break.

Those training aids, obviously, can't offer that same kind of personal support. You get as much out of them as you can, but it's not the same as having a professional coach.

On this subject, if any developer out there would like to collaborate with me on a fitness app, I'd love to share my ideas [tweet me here] with them. There's a lot that can be done in this field, I believe.

Speaking of training, what's your personal best on the notorious beep test [a sadistic endurance training test so beloved of UK PE teachers]?

My personal best is level 17.9. According to urban legend, though, Sebastian Coe's PB is level 21.1. But, can he pole vault?! [laughs]

[To put this into perspective, club runners of today would expect to hit the wall at level 14.4.]

What are your thoughts on eSports, e.g. the World Cyber Games?

There's plenty of common ground seemingly between eSports and international sporting events in general. Cheating isn't permitted at these major meets, for one.

Fair and healthy competition; respect for your opposition; and aspiring to be number one are values and qualities I promote wholeheartedly in online gaming, sport, and life.

You can download Daley Thompson's Decathlon 2012 from the App Store now for iPhone and iPad for £1.49 / $1.99 [buy], and from Google Play for £1.49 [buy].
Richard Brown
Richard Brown
With a degree in German up his sleeve Richard squares up to the following three questions every morning: FIFA or Pro Evo? XBox 360 or PS3? McNulty or Bunk?