LAS VEGAS — Bill Toomey admits he lives a bit of a hermit’s life these days. So when he got a call from officials at the Pac-12 Conference a few months ago, it was as much a revelation as a surprise.
Toomey, the only Colorado Buffalo to ever win a gold medal in an individual event at the Olympics, was told he was going to be honored with a spot in the 2018 Pac-12 Hall of Honor class. For a guy who graduated from CU in 1962, the reaction was somewhat comical.
“What happened to the Big 8?” Toomey said with a laugh on Friday. “I’m going into the Hall of Honor for the Pac-12, and I didn’t even realize Colorado was in it.”
This year marks the first time the league’s annual Hall of Honor celebration during the men’s basketball tournament week includes league greats beyond those who only played basketball. Despite having never competed in the Pac-12, or its earlier incarnations as the Pac-10 and Pac-8, Toomey made the trip to Las Vegas from his home near Lake Tahoe with a large contingent of family members.
Toomey won the decathlon at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, overcoming failures on his first two pole vault attempts to win gold. Toomey narrowly missed the Olympic team four years earlier and vowed to make certain that changed in ’68, yet his journey to the medal podium in Mexico City actually started at CU. Specifically, in the depths of Folsom Field when the football stadium still had track facilities.
“If I hadn’t gone to Colorado, I never would’ve been an Olympian,” said the 79-year old Toomey, who still runs regularly. “Coach (Frank) Potts took me down into the bowels of the stadium by myself. There was this board with all the records at CU. Down near the bottom they had the decathlon. I went back to Potts’ office and asked, ‘What’s a decathlon?’ I had no idea. It wasn’t even in the NCAA meet.
“Frank handed me a metric conversion scoring table. I went home that night and said, ‘I wonder how many points I could score?’ And I started doing the academic decathlon and that was the beginning. If I hadn’t gone to Colorado, nothing like that would’ve ever happened. That’s where it all started.”
Toomey isn’t the first former CU athlete to reach the league’s Hall of Honor despite never competing in the Pac-12 — basketball legends Chauncey Billups and Scott Wedman also have been honored — yet the league insists including all current member institutions among its historical greats far outweighs the fact that CU and Utah didn’t join the league until 2011.
“The minute Colorado and Utah joined the league, it’s our job to showcase their great history,” Pac-12 chief marketing officer Danette Leighton said. “They’re part of the family. Of course we’re going to include them in a special event like this to showcase their history and the strength in the breadth of sports that they’ve had. Regardless if they’ve played in the Pac-12 or not, Colorado’s history should be showcased.”