From cripple to WR man, Thomas Stewens eyes return to decathlon

Thomas has 7669 deca PR.

After setting a startling M50 world record in the pentathlon, Germany’s Thomas Stewens became my latest Q&A target. He responded immediately. But I forgot about his email. My apologies. He’s had rougher treatment. In 2004, after severing the rectus femoris muscle of his takeoff leg quadriceps, he rejected a diagnosis that his leg was shot forever. “For motivational purposes, I also decided to sign up for the World Indoor Championships in Stuttgart in 2004.” The result? A WR in the M35 pentathlon. Now he’s hoping to resume his decathlon career in 2017. His all-time PR is 7669. He’ll have plenty of fans. He’s the father of five kids, “who all support their Dad a lot in his sports and came to many of my events!” Here’s an email interview conducted Sept. 13: Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
Thomas Stewens: I live in Dortelweil in Germany and work for BankM, a small Frankfurt-based private bank.
What athletics events did you do as a young man, and what were your all-time best marks?
I always did the deca (my talents would have been in other sports, but I always wanted to be a decathlete) and it is my passion until today. Some other sports I did or do for fun are skiing, hockey, basketball and biking.
PB: 7669 pts in St. Louis 
PBs in single events: 

  • 11.27 in 100
  • 7.10 in long jump (23-3 1/2)
  • 13.89 in shot put (45-6 3/4)
  • 2.00 in high jump (6-6 3/4)
  • 49.36 in 400
  • 14.76 in 110 hurdles
  • 42.40 in discus (139-1 1/4)
  • 4.80 in pole vault (15-9)
  • 58.40 in javelin (191-7)
  • 4:06.65 in 1500 (Top 10 all time list for deca)

 Best athletic achievement: 7171 in a one-hour decathlon (around Top 20 in all time list)

When did you begin competing in masters athletics? Why did you resume?
After a pretty serious injury (completely severed rectus femoris on take off leg), I needed a goal for the very tough rehab sessions. The doctors had told me that the leg would remain dysfunctional, disabling me from doing any types of intensive sports.

In order to prove them wrong, I searched for a very good physiotherapist to help me. For motivational purposes, I also decided to sign up for the (WMA) World Indoor Championships in Stuttgart in 2004. There, six months later, I won the M35 indoor pentathlon, setting a new WR. (Not a very good WR, which was later well superceded by my friend Mattias Sunneborn).

Nevertheless, I was especially happy to high-jump 1.80 meters and long jump 6.40 meters, substituting the hamstrings for the disconnected rectus femoris. The non-school-medicine plan had worked and I rediscovered my passion for the multi-events.   
Have you completed a decathlon this year?
I have not attempted a decathlon in the last four years, due to a major knee injury, now on my left leg. After two surgeries and four years of intensive rehab, my knee is now pretty good again and my major goal to finish a decathlon again seems to be reachable. Decathlon is always a small path between training enough and training too much or too intensively, which does not become easier with age.
What are your competition plans the rest of the year? Perth?
I signed up for Perth, hopefully able to compete there, but it is my big goal to compete in Stendal in 2017. Stendal hosts an amazing masters decathlon and in my opinion the best place in the world to set multi-event records. It has become the Götzis for masters athletes. This is why I go there every year, supporting the organizers and hopefully will complete a deca there one day. One nice thing about masters track is that there is always a lot of time left to fulfill your dreams. If it is not M50, it might be M55 or M60.
How did you celebrate your record on your birthday?
The whole day was a big party. My younger three kids — Nicholas, Konstantin and Inga — as well as Todd Mion, a good friend from the U.S. supported me at the meet in Zella Mehlis. The officials at the meet greeted me with champagne in the morning and wished me best of success.

From event to event, it became clearer that a new WR might be possible and the other athletes and the stadium announcer pushed me in every phase. After the 1500, we celebrated with my team and a couple beers with the other athletes, before my friend drove me to the birthday party in Frankfurt, organized by my wife Bethann and my older kids Lena and TJ.

We celebrated at home with 110 family and friends from all over the world until 5 o clock in the morning. A scripted birthday could not have been any more exciting for me, than this September 10th 2016.
How do German clubs help produce so many masters champions? 
I cannot speak for all of Germany, because I do not know the situation in all the other German states. In general, we have very good training facilities in Germany and as a masters athlete you usually can get access by joining a T&F club. Most of the times, the training is organized by the masters athletes themselves, who often are also coaches at their clubs. As a result, you have a lot of athletes with good technical skills and abilities, helping each other, while also coaching at their clubs.
What steps should be taken to improve masters athletics worldwide?
I believe, we need more attractive meets like the Stendaler Hanse Cup designed for masters athletes with a dedicated organisation, own sponsors and the freedom to develop a good offering for masters athletes. In addition, it would be a big step forward if the national track & field associations would cooperate with the venues to establish a micro-cosmos dedicated to masters athletics.

Currently the national associations dedicate the existing funds and the attention almost entirely to the youth and the main class, which leaves out a growing potential in masters athletics. The idea is not about taking away from the youth (the most important group in my eyes), but opening the door for additional dedicated resources (today the masters venues are strongly restricted by the exclusivity for sponsors, who have very little interest in developing masters athletics).
How often is drug-testing done in German masters athletics? Have you been tested?
At the German championships and also in Stendal, there is random testing. So every athlete, who competes at this level, has to be aware of the possibility to be tested. I have only been tested once as a masters athlete (after the WR in Stuttgart), but I also compete very few times. I would actually support a rule that every athlete is tested after setting a new WR.
Since somebody needs to pay for the testing procedure, it will be very difficult to establish an improved anti-doping system in Germany and probably globally. Bodybuilder events have had good experiences with pre-competition lie-detector questionnaires. If contestants did not pass, they simply could not compete.
Anything else people should know about you or German athletics?

Being able to do a sport at this level of intensity is always a big gift from the people around you, supporting you. My wife Bethann, our five kids, the coaches and the other athletes, the judges at the venues, the meet organizers, the journalists, the statisticians who keep the records and also the often blamed officials,

All their mostly unpaid work and support is necessary for me as an athlete to have those moments of fun and joy. I am deeply thankful for this and hope to be able to continue for a long time, with all this friendly support. 
It might be interesting for your American readers, that I studied at the University of Arizona in Tucson and participated twice at NCAA in the deca. In Tucson, I also met my American wife, BethAnn, who later moved to Germany with me.

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September 26, 2016

One Response

  1. Brian Coushay - September 28, 2016

    Thomas Stewens congratulations on all of your success. All of your hard work has paid off. Best of Luck to you in Perth!! I hope to meet you one day.

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