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O’Brien Struggles Into Lead Decathlon Star Battles Back From Deficit, Moves Ahead In Usa Track Championships

Dan O’Brien brought a couple of new implements to the decathlon Wednesday.

A hard hat and a lunch bucket.

In the past, the world champion decathlete has seemed to rely on his abundant physical gifts rather than sheer competitive gumption.

Wednesday, though, he showed his mettle.

Although well below his world-record pace, O’Brien compiled a gritty 4,628 points at the USA/Mobil Track and Field Championships to lead Chris Huffins by 54 points.

And he did it in a way he’s never done before: coming from behind, getting tough on his final attempts, and fighting through a number of challenges.

“Today, I had to work for everything I got - work hard,” O’Brien said while taking a warm-down jog.

And as he left the track in the gathering darkness and persistent drizzle, O’Brien made one point clear: “That world record isn’t out of reach.”

“What a steady day of work,” said Mike Keller, one of O’Brien’s coaches.

It took until nearly 10 p.m. Wednesday, when the fourth of five events in the decathlon championship had been completed before O’Brien - the world-record holder - finally assumed the lead.

O’Brien had trailed Huffins, a former University of California standout, through the first three events, but a clearance of 6-10 in the high jump (compared to Huffins’ 6-6 effort) allowed him to edge out front.

“Steady and average,” O’Brien’s other coach Rick Sloan assessed of the performance on a cool day that threatened rain all afternoon and then delivered in a big way with a deluge during the high jump.

“There was nothing exceptionally good and nothing exceptionally poor,” Sloan said. “Although I think he was very close in a couple of areas.”

What appeared to be a dubious false start against him might have nullified a sensational 100 meters. A foul on his second long jump voided what could have been, according to Sloan, “a world (decathlon) record.” And the heavy downpour struck just as O’Brien prepared his attempts at the upper heights in the high jump.

“This is the first meet he’s ever been beaten in the 100 and the first meet he’s ever been behind after two events,” said Keller. “But there’s a lot of ways to get the job done.”

Perhaps, the “average” performance will take pressure off O’Brien and open the way for a surprise second day - not normally his strength.

So many times in recent years, O’Brien has been on

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo