2003 has been a breakthrough year for Decathlon winner Tom Pappas of the United States. After winning a gold medal this week at the 2003 World Athletics Championships in France and other stellar performances earlier this year, VOA's Steve Schy says Pappas is ready to become the next in a series of American multi-discipline stars.
Tom Pappas appears to be the latest in a group of elite American decathlon greats such as Dan O'Brien and Bruce Jenner, after winning the title of "world's greatest athlete," traditionally given to the world decathlon champion.
He won the 10-event contest Wednesday night with a total of 8,750 points, defeating defending world champion and world record holder Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, who finished with the silver medal. Pappas is not a typical athlete. He is thoughtful, quiet and not given to showing his emotions.
"I think a lot of it is just trying to stay focused," he said. "I guess I'm so into what I'm trying to do and I got so much running through my mind. Yeah, but a lot of it is just my personality, I guess."
Earlier in 2003, he established himself by scoring 8,784 points at the U.S. Outdoor championships the second best score ever by an American. Pappas is the only American other than the legendary three-time winner Dan O'Brien to capture World Championships gold. But the 26-year-old Pappas says there is still room for improvement.
"The technical events I think I am pretty solid in," said Tom Pappas. "Probably the biggest thing is just trying to keep my fitness. I think I can still improve a lot in all the running events. My 1500 is still going to have to get a lot better. I need to get better technically in some areas, but overall I think it's just going to be keeping my strength and fitness level up."
Tom Pappas comes from an athletic family. His grandfather was a professional wrestler. And despite being physically challenged by polio, his father Nick set a vehicle land speed world record of over 700 kilometers per hour. In high school, Pappas competed in four different sports.
"I got some good genes, for sure," he admitted. "Growing up playing all sports and having my family very involved in my athletics has helped a lot, and I got a lot of support from them. I know they are very proud and they have been a big part of this."
Tom Pappas is now looking forward to next Summer's Olympics in Athens. And he does not mind that he will be the target all the others are aiming at.
"Definitely, I'm looking forward to it," said Tom Pappas. "To be in this position, I'm not going to get nervous, or worry about being the favorite or have extra pressure. To me it will be extra motivation, knowing that guys are gunning for me and trying to chase me, and it is something that I look forward to. I would enjoy going into the games as a favorite."
Going to Athens will be somewhat of a homecoming for Pappas, whose family came from Greece.
"I'm tall and blonde, and a lot of people say I don't look Greek," he said. "But yeah, my great-grandfather came over from Athens. Probably 90 percent of my e-mails come from people from Greece asking questions. They are very supportive and I'm looking forward to going over there next year."
Tom Pappas, not your average Greek, and not your average athlete. But he is the new face of the decathlon in the United States.