Today, 50 years ago, Willi Holdorf wrote history: he became the first German athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in decathlon. But for adidas he’s more than that. He is an important member of the adidas family. This is not only because he had a great relationship with our founder Adi Dassler, but also because after his career as a professional athlete he started to work as a sales rep at adidas. Later on, he worked in Sports Marketing. For me personally, Willi is a hero.
I had the pleasure to meet Willi for an interview and asked him if he would like to share some insights into his biggest achievement as an athlete. Here is what I received back from him.
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How I became the first German to win Olympic Gold in decathlon
Olympic Games, Tokyo, Japan. Now I’m here at the age of just 24 – entering the Olympic decathlon competition. Four years earlier I failed to qualify for Rome. Let’s concentrate on the now. This time everything will be fine.
I’m ready to fight but also know my qualities quite well. I have a fair amount of jumping power, but I’m still not so good in high jump. Compared to my competitors, I feel like a pretty poor javelin thrower. That doesn’t matter. I have a lot of reasons to be self-confident. And I feel lucky.
Just before the Olympics they changed the points system. In the old system, athletes got the more points the closer they got to the world record in any particular discipline. This led to everyone training more for the events they were good at. In the new system, the events athletes are not so good at and in which they have more room for improvement become more important. I think this change suits me.
The competition events go quite well. It’s the 20th of October 1964. For the final event in Tokyo, the 1,500 metres, I could afford to lose by up to 18 seconds but still be sure of winning gold.
I haven’t run the 1,500 metre race for a year. When I did run long distances before, I often had problems with my Achilles tendon. I just tend to run on my heels. Therefore my friend Adi Dassler made shoes for me with the heels built up a bit. I’m convinced they’ll win me a couple of seconds. The 18mm wedge on the sole provides extra cushioning, taking pressure off the Achilles tendon. I’ll wear these shoes in the final race. Everything will be fine!
I keep telling myself that I can be faster than my Russian opponent, Rein Aun. He has run 4:17 before. I agree with my team mate, Hans-Joachim Walde, to start fast and then slow the pace down. We hope Rein Aun will stay with us. I’m surprised how laid back I am. I’m not too nervous about the race. I don’t really know what it means to win an Olympic gold medal.
BAM. The race starts. Aun sets off like a rocket and leaves us behind. By the end of the lap, Aun has a lead of about 50 metres. Keep your nerves! I remind myself to stick to the best pace I think I’m capable of. Again and again. Come on! It’s always a bit of a matter of luck. Run. How much can my body still take after a couple of days’ competition? How much can Aun’s body still take? I don’t know. He can’t know. Just keep the nerves. Run. Catch up.
The plan works. I win the decathlon. I can’t believe it. I’m exhausted. I’m relieved. I’m jumping for joy. I’m the first German athlete to win a Decathlon Gold Medal at Olympic Games. So proud.