Willi Holdorf at the 2012 Olympic Games in London (Getty Images) © Copyright

Holdorf, 1964 Olympic decathlon champion, dies

World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Willi Holdorf, the 1964 Olympic decathlon champion, died at his home in Achterwehr, Germany, on Sunday (5) after a long illness. Holdorf was 80.

Born on 17 February 1940, in Blomesche Wildnis, near Glückstadt in Schleswig-Holstein State, Holdorf would become one of Germany's greatest multi-sport talents.

He was a notable football and handball player in his teenaged years, but achieved his greatest success in athletics. He won the national junior decathlon title in 1959 at 19 and narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic team the following year.

He captured national titles in 1961 and 1963 and was fifth at the 1962 European Championships, setting the stage for his Olympic triumph two years later.

In Tokyo, Holdorf lead with 4090 points after the first day and would never surrender his lead. The final event was dramatic with Estonian Rein Aun, competing for the Soviet Union, providing the final challenge. He beat Holdorf by 12 seconds, but not enough to unseat the German whose all-out energy-sapping effort over the final 15 metres left him weaving back and forth before he tumbled over the finish line. He said later that he blacked out entirely in the final stages of the race.

When he was later dubbed the "world's greatest athlete" for his decathlon victory, Holdorf declaimed the notion, choosing 100m champion Bob Hayes as more worthy of that honour.

That Olympic decathlon would be his last. With a young family to support, Holdorf retired from athletics and worked as an electrician while completing his studies.

He later returned to sport as an athletics coach in the late 1960s, guiding Claus Schiprowski to a silver medal in the pole vault in 1968. From 1971 to 1973 Holdorf competed in two-man and four-man bobsled, winning a bronze medal in the former at the 1973 European Championships. He also worked as a football coach at Fortuna Cologne.

In 1997 he became a member of the German Olympic Committee and in 2011 was inducted into the German Sports Hall of Fame.

Bob Ramsak for World Athletics