August 2, 1996 in Sports

Gold, At Last Dan O’Brien’s Long Wait Ends With Gold Medal In Decathlon

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If you remember the question from 1992, the answer - at long last - is Dan.

Unequivocally, undeniably Dan.

Assist - would you believe it? - to Dave.

The Olympic decathlon Dan O’Brien was sure he’d win four years ago was finally secured Thursday night, thanks in a subtle way to a suggestion from the other star of the infamous Reebok ad campaign of 1992 that backfired.

That would be Dave Johnson, the ‘92 bronze medalist whose decathlon career came to an end at the Olympic Trials in June but who is still affiliated with VISA’s sponsorship program for decathletes.

And when O’Brien was down to his last throw in the javelin, he sought Johnson’s advice.

“We had all kinds of javs out there,” O’Brien recalled. “So I hollered at Dave Johnson - he’s the javelin expert - to ask which one I should use. I grabbed the one he said to throw, liked the feeling and, hey, it did something good out there.”

It went 219 feet, 6 inches and was pretty much the clinching moment of O’Brien’s gold-medal performance - an 8,824-point effort that beat Germany’s Frank Busemann by 118 points. Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic claimed the bronze, just 20 points ahead of American Steve Fritz.

Though O’Brien just missed Daley Thompson’s Olympic record of 8,847, he did preside over the deepest decathlon in Games history in terms of quality. Ten men topped 8,300 points. The other two ‘92 medalists, Robert Zmelik and Antonio Penalver, could do no better than seventh and ninth, respectively.

Maybe half of the crowd of 82,884 - track attendance will top 1 million today - stayed until nearly midnight to acknowledge O’Brien at the medal ceremony.

“When I was walking out there, I thought to myself that I’d never be a rock star, but this was as close as I was going to get,” he said.

America’s heavy medal haul in track has even heard hammer throwers showered in applause. And on a night when sprinter Michael Johnson lowered the 200-meter world record in Beamonesque fashion, O’Brien had to work hard for his corner of the spotlight.

He never trailed - taking a 124-point lead into the day and never seeing it drop to less than 71. That happened after the high hurdles, in which Busemann ran a world decathlon best 13.47.

That was one of three lifetime bests the 21-year-old Busemann managed Thursday alone - a 216-4 toss in the javelin being another shocker. Three more Wednesday helped boost his score to 8,706 - nearly 200 points better than he’d ever scored.

“He caught me by surprise,” admitted O’Brien. “He really came out of nowhere. … He can hurdle, throw, run fast and jump. He’s going to score 9,000 points if I don’t do it first, so I guess that’s reason enough to stay in the sport.”

O’Brien’s performances were solid enough to make it one of his best second days, but not spectacular - until the javelin. He ran 13.87 behind Busemann in the hurdles, threw the discus 160-0 and pole vaulted a so-so 16-4-3/4.

Needing to stay within 32 seconds of Busemann in the 1,500, O’Brien sprinted the final 150 to finish in 4:45.89 - his best in four years.

“It was all or nothing,” said Mike Keller, who with Rick Sloan coaches O’Brien. “Twelve years of work come down to one race.”

Like O’Brien, Sloan was surprised by Busemann - thinking all along that Eduard Hamalainen of Belarus would be the rival hanging closest at the end. But Hamalainen faltered in the vault - passing at 16-8-3/4, then missing three times at 17-0-3/4 - and gained no ground on O’Brien, and couldn’t manage a javelin throw beyond 185 feet.

It was O’Brien’s fifth career meet better than 8,800 points - Thompson is closest with two - and his first since the World Championships in 1993. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to win a gold medal,” O’Brien reasoned. “You strive for perfection and leave a little room for error.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. This is a new place, maybe, to start some things in my life. I’ll continue to train and compete and I probably won’t be finished with the sport until I’ve gotten everything out of it that I can - and that’s 9,000 points, or 9,100 or 9,200.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE LIFE OF O’BRIEN 1966 - Born in Portland. 1968 - Adopted by Jim and Virginia O’Brien of Klamath Falls. 1981 - First decathlon, as a high school sophomore, scoring 4,643 points using prep implements. 1984 - Recruited to University of Idaho by coach Mike Keller. 1985-87 - Academically ineligible at Idaho, loses his scholarship, evicted from dorm for $5,000 in debts. 1988 - Enrolls at Community Colleges of Spokane and regains academic eligibility. Wins the decathlon and accounts for 60 team points in the NWAACC meet. Qualifies for Olympic Trials by scoring 7,891 points in his first decathlon in four years, but pulls hamstring in Trials. Re-enrolls at Idaho for fall semester. 1989 - Athlete of the meet for both track and field at Big Sky indoor championships. 1990 - Rick Sloan of Washington State becomes co-coach. Tops 8,000 points for the first time: 8,267 at Cougar Invitational in Pullman. 1991 - Wins his first national and world championships, topping 8,800 points at both meets, establishing himself as favorite for Olympic gold medal. 1992 - Signs with Reebok to appear in the “Dan vs. Dave” commercials, hyping their potential Olympic decathlon showdown in Barcelona. Noheights in the pole vault at U.S. Trials and fails to make Olympic team. Recovers to break world decathlon record in Talence, France, in September with 8,891 points, beating Olympic champion Robert Zmelik. 1993 - Wins second world championship in Stuttgart with 8,817 points. Switches from Reebok to Nike. 1994 - Wins nationals, Goodwill and Talence all with scores topping 8,700 points. 1995 - Wins a third world title in Goteborg, Sweden, and ranks first in the world by Track & Field News for the third straight year, and fourth in five years. 1996 - Gold medalist.

LOCAL WATCH How athletes from Washington and Idaho fared in the Olympics on Thursday: Track and field: Dan O’Brien (Moscow, Idaho), won the gold medal in the decathlon; Chantal Brunner (ex-WSU, New Zealand), women’s long jump, 21-8-3/4, qualified for today’s final. Baseball: Travis Lee (Olympia), USA men, lost 11-2 to Japan in semfinals. Men’s basketball: John Stockton (Spokane) had three points and Gary Payton (Seattle) scored six points in USA win over Australia 101-73 in semifinals. Men’s canoe/kayak: John Mooney (Seattle) and Peter Newton (Bellevue), finished fifth in K-2 1,000-meter semifinals with time of 3:19.83. Women’s soccer: Michelle Akers (Seattle), helped USA defeat China 2-1 in gold medal match.

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE LIFE OF O’BRIEN 1966 - Born in Portland. 1968 - Adopted by Jim and Virginia O’Brien of Klamath Falls. 1981 - First decathlon, as a high school sophomore, scoring 4,643 points using prep implements. 1984 - Recruited to University of Idaho by coach Mike Keller. 1985-87 - Academically ineligible at Idaho, loses his scholarship, evicted from dorm for $5,000 in debts. 1988 - Enrolls at Community Colleges of Spokane and regains academic eligibility. Wins the decathlon and accounts for 60 team points in the NWAACC meet. Qualifies for Olympic Trials by scoring 7,891 points in his first decathlon in four years, but pulls hamstring in Trials. Re-enrolls at Idaho for fall semester. 1989 - Athlete of the meet for both track and field at Big Sky indoor championships. 1990 - Rick Sloan of Washington State becomes co-coach. Tops 8,000 points for the first time: 8,267 at Cougar Invitational in Pullman. 1991 - Wins his first national and world championships, topping 8,800 points at both meets, establishing himself as favorite for Olympic gold medal. 1992 - Signs with Reebok to appear in the “Dan vs. Dave” commercials, hyping their potential Olympic decathlon showdown in Barcelona. Noheights in the pole vault at U.S. Trials and fails to make Olympic team. Recovers to break world decathlon record in Talence, France, in September with 8,891 points, beating Olympic champion Robert Zmelik. 1993 - Wins second world championship in Stuttgart with 8,817 points. Switches from Reebok to Nike. 1994 - Wins nationals, Goodwill and Talence all with scores topping 8,700 points. 1995 - Wins a third world title in Goteborg, Sweden, and ranks first in the world by Track & Field News for the third straight year, and fourth in five years. 1996 - Gold medalist.

LOCAL WATCH How athletes from Washington and Idaho fared in the Olympics on Thursday: Track and field: Dan O’Brien (Moscow, Idaho), won the gold medal in the decathlon; Chantal Brunner (ex-WSU, New Zealand), women’s long jump, 21-8-3/4, qualified for today’s final. Baseball: Travis Lee (Olympia), USA men, lost 11-2 to Japan in semfinals. Men’s basketball: John Stockton (Spokane) had three points and Gary Payton (Seattle) scored six points in USA win over Australia 101-73 in semifinals. Men’s canoe/kayak: John Mooney (Seattle) and Peter Newton (Bellevue), finished fifth in K-2 1,000-meter semifinals with time of 3:19.83. Women’s soccer: Michelle Akers (Seattle), helped USA defeat China 2-1 in gold medal match.

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