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|Tom Hintnaus discusses his Olympics experiences|
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
At 49, Tom Hintnaus still looks pretty good in his tightie-whities.
About 25 years ago, millions of people ogled him wearing just Calvin Klein skivvies in a famous — nay iconic — 1983 GQ magazine spread, not to mention the giant billboard in Times Square.
Hintnaus, who now lives in Hawai'i Kai, plans to keep this kind of body for a long time: "If you stay active, if you stay in shape; age is not a factor," he said firmly, but then he caught himself: "OK, maybe 90."
Hintnaus, an Olympic pole-vaulter who still competes, has the genes to back it up.
His mother and late father, both from the Czech Republic, were athletes; his father coached Cathy Rigby through her Olympic years, Hintnaus said.
They were pretty savvy, too: They enrolled their son in Friday night gymnastics classes.
"That was genius on my parents' part," said Hintnaus, a father of two, including a high-school-aged daughter who herself is a pole-vaulter.
He didn't party in high school, he said: "I think I had maybe three beers — and it was all in one night. ... If I wanted to be the best athlete I could be, I had to focus, focus, focus."
Focus was a family trait.
His sister, a gymnast, was an alternate to the U.S. Olympic team in 1972. At age 6, he announced to his delighted parents that he wanted to go to the Olympics.
He would realize his Olympic dream, but not the way his parents envisioned.
That story starts at age 8, when his family was in California. He attended a track event at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and caught sight of the pole-vaulters.
"I was mesmerized," said the former Kamehameha pole-vaulting coach. "It was almost like a gymnastics event, on a track."
He chose to attend the University of Oregon, where the Olympic trials were being held. Not only did he make the team, he nearly beat the world record.
"That's almost the equivalent of a college guy beating everyone in the NFL," said Hintnaus, sounding almost as excited today, nearly three decades later.
But unfortunately, the team was to compete in 1980 in Moscow — the year the U.S. boycotted the games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He was able to compete in 1984, but under the banner of Brazil, his birthplace.
More than 20 years later, he still moves like an athlete.
Hintnaus, his second wife and youngest daughter moved to Hawai'i about seven years ago, where he stays in shape by running, paddling, lifting weights, hiking, playing volleyball and surfing — he can see his favorite surf spot, Turtles, from his bed.
He still occasionally models, but these days his day job is building docks, which means he can be on the water all day.
Hintnaus never took the modeling as seriously as he did the athletics. His brow furrowed as he talked about the appearance money that he'd earn — in cash, and under the table, to keep his amateur status to make the Olympics.
The modeling started his third year in college, when he'd gone home to California for the summer and remembered the card a manager had given him. His parents were skeptical: They'd been caught once before in a scheme in which a modeling agent tried to milk them for money.
Imagine their surprise when the manager told them that not only would he not charge them, but later got their son signed to Los Angeles' biggest name in modeling, the Nina Blanchard Agency.
The young Hintnaus did runway shows, commercials and print ads — yes, in those infamous undies.
"I worked so hard at being the best pole-vaulter in the world, and I ended up being more well-known for putting on a pair of briefs," he told The Los Angeles Times.
These days, he'd rather talk about his future than his past. While his sprinting speed has slowed a bit, Hintnaus said his arm and shoulder strength is the best it's ever been. He's training for future pole-vaulting contests, and despite not picking up a pole in 15 years, two years ago won his age range in a national competition.
When he hits 50 in February, he wants to take on the Senior Olympics.
"Thankfully, my body is 100 percent," Hintnaus said. "I refuse to slow down."