A supremely gifted, and outspoken, athlete who turned decathlete after initially targeting a sprinting career, Thompson eventually went on to win two Olympic gold medals.
The Briton celebrated his 18th birthday the day he finished 18th in the Montreal Games of 1976, but it was clear even then the teenager from Notting Hill was destined for greater things.
He crushed the opposition four years later in Moscow and showed the first signs of his impish cockiness by humming God Save the Queen while the Olympic anthem was played in the medal ceremony at the Lenin Stadium.
Britain’s athletes had gone without the backing of the Margaret Thatcher government and the Olympic anthem replaced the British national anthem at all medal ceremonies.
As he walked off the track, Thompson theatrically clicked his heels to the delight of the Moscow crowd, who had given him a standing ovation as he completed his victory at the end of the final event, the 1500m.
The man who must have been most frustrated by Thompson’s immense talent, commitment and cheek was West Germany’s Jürgen Hingsen.
The German was the world record holder going into the inaugural world championships at Helsinki in 1983, but Thompson again prevailed on the big stage setting the scene for another major showdown in Los Angeles.
Thompson enjoyed a scintillating opening day under the sun at the Memorial Coliseum. He recorded personal bests in the 100m, long jump and shot putt to put himself 151 points clear of Hingsen.
However the giant German, who measured two metres tall, gradually gnawed into Thompson’s lead at the start of day two, and when the Briton recorded two awful throws in the discus his hopes truly hung in the balance.
Thompson would later say he felt he was ‘looking over the cliff’ as he walked to the throwing circle for his third and final effort.
He threw 46.56m, a personal best, and it completely knocked the stuffing out of the German. Hingsen fluffed the pole vault and Thompson extended his lead and he could run a relaxed 1500m to ensure his second win.
He became the first athlete to successfully defend the Olympic decathlon title since American Bob Mathias at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Thompson courted more controversy with comments and a cheeky T-shirt in his press conference, when reflecting on what turned out to be the high point of his career.