More than 2,000 people filled Moscow’s East City Park on Sunday evening to cheer hometown hero Dan O’Brien, the first American since Bruce Jenner to win an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon.
“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the greatest athlete in the world,” said Barb Lockwood of Potlatch, Idaho. “It brought tears to my eyes to see him win.”
On Aug. 1, O’Brien completed the final event, the 1,500-meter race, taking the gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“When you ran, we ran. When you threw, we threw. And when you cried, we cried,” state Rep. James “Doc” Lucas, R-Moscow, told O’Brien on Sunday. The University of Idaho presented O’Brien with lifetime passes to all Vandal home games and the university golf course.
Idaho Gov. Phil Batt declared Sunday “Dan O’Brien Day” statewide.
“In an era in which we yearn for heroes, you stepped forward and did your best,” read a letter from U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who sent O’Brien a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.
O’Brien, whose family sat in the front row, seemed comfortable, joking with the crowd and accepting a long string of plaques, commendations and other honors.
“I would just like to say there will never be school on ‘Dan O’Brien Day,”’ the athlete announced, drawing cheers from the hundreds of children at the event.
The celebration gave Moscow a chance to tell O’Brien how proud the city is of him, said organizer Nancy Roach. “We all realize he’s world-famous, but in this town, he’s allowed to be a regular person,” she said.
“You see him at the mall; he works out at the track. He doesn’t come off as pampered or arrogant. He’s just a regular guy,” said Lloyd Scott of Moscow, holding a “GO, GO, GO, DAN-O!” sign.
Moscow’s not the only town heaping honors on the decathlete.
O’Brien was raised in Klamath Falls, Ore. There, fans are lobbying to rename Foothills Boulevard “Dan O’Brien Parkway” and trying to build a park to be named after him. A two-story mural depicting Dan is slated for a brick building downtown.
“It will probably be the same picture you’ll see on a Wheaties box,” said organizer Betty Dickson, who also sits on the Klamath Falls Chamber of Commerce. “He was one of the local heroes even as a school kid,” recalled Paul Goebel, another organizer of Klamath Falls’ celebration.
“Even back in high school, he was a one-man team.”
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