June 27, 1992, 30 years ago today: After a six-month Reebok mass media campaign called “Dan and Dave”, featuring Olympic decathlon hopefuls Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson, O’Brien fails in the pole vault and is eliminated at the U.S. Olympics Trials. It was a shock for the former Idaho Vandal star, who had won the world decathlon championship in 1991. He would be world champ again in 1993 and 1995, and would fully redeem himself by winning the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
O’Brien regrouped after the 1992 setback and set a world record of 8,891 points in early September that year in Talence, France. It stood for seven years. It wasn’t the first time O’Brien had bounced back. He enrolled at the University of Idaho after graduating from Henley High School in Klamath Falls in 1984. But O’Brien flunked out in 1986 amidst a disinterest in going to class and some legal missteps. He cleaned things up during two years at Spokane Falls Community College and even made the 1988 Olympic Trials.
Vandals coach Mike Keller, who had originally recruited O’Brien to Moscow, gave him a second chance, and he graduated from Idaho in 1989. Keller continued to help coach O’Brien along with Washington State’s Rick Sloan as he climbed the international ladder. O’Brien won gold in Atlanta with 8,824 points, topping silver medalist Frank Busemann of Germany by 118 points. He dialed back his competitive schedule after the Olympics. O’Brien was forced to withdraw from the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials due to a plantar fascia injury, effectively ending his time on the big stage.
Little-known fact: O’Brien broke the world record for the fastest game of hopscotch in 2009. He navigated the rectangles with his “lagger” in just 81 seconds, breaking the old mark by two seconds. O’Brien now live in Phoenix and has spent time as a volunteer assistant track and field coach at Arizona State. He also owns Gold Medal Acceleration in Scottsdale. O’Brien turns 56 on July 18.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)