Dan O’Brien: ’96 Win Was A Relief’


This is another interesting interview released by USATF:

INDIANAPOLIS – USA Track & Field on Tuesday announced that Dan O'Brien, Lynn Jennings, Kevin Young, Ollan Cassell, Rex Cawley and Bill Nieder will be inducted in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.

Dan O'Brien

Q: What were your thoughts when you were informed that you had been elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame?

A: I was excited. It's the kind of thing that I hadn't really thought about until it happened. It's a really nice honor and immediately I told the kids I've been working with as a volunteer at Arizona State University. Everybody thought it was pretty cool.

Q: How did you first get started in track and field?

A: I was at a high school football game when I was in fifth grade and they had a one mile fun-run for kids and I jumped in the race and I won it. The first race I ever entered, I won. Then when I got into junior high I started running cross country just to be with my friends and hang out, and one time I was on a long four or five mile run and I came sprinting into the finish and the coach suggested that I come to practice tomorrow and train with the sprinters at the track. After cross country season was over I started running with the sprinters and I never looked back.   Q: How did it evolve that you got into competing in the decathlon?

A: Interesting enough, Frank Zarnowski and many of the decathlon experts say that the decathlon finds you, and it definitely was that way with me. My dad had a rule that if I didn't get at least a "C" average in all my classes I couldn't participate in the sport of that quarter. I got a "D" in Social Studies when I was in tenth grade and I couldn't run track. My coach was broken up about it and I was broken up about it, so after the season was over my coach came to my house and told my parents that I had gotten my grades back up and we've got a summer decathlon going on and he asked if I could participate in that. My Dad said yes, so the first time I ever did the decathlon was in lieu of a track season. I trained and did a summer decathlon, and the first time I did the decathlon I said 'I'm never doing that again!' Every summer I would do that one decathlon and when I was a senior I won the high school national championships and got a couple scholarship offers and ended up going to the University of Idaho, where I spent most of my time running the high hurdles and the quarter mile.

Q: What was it about the decathlon that hooked you?

A: It's the challenge of it, but it also was the opportunity. I knew I wasn't going to beat Carl Lewis in the 100 meters, I knew I wasn't going to be a 29 foot long jumper. I said it's not my first choice and it's not my favorite choice, but I could be the next Bruce Jenner, and the sport was without a star in that event. The women had Jackie Joyner-Kersee and I really looked up to her and I wanted to be the male Jackie Joyner-Kersee. I wanted to be good in individual events and great at multi-events. I felt that was my best chance to really be successful.

Q: 1992 was an interesting year for you with all the Dan vs. Dave hype, failing to make the Olympic team with a no-height pole vault at the Olympic Trials and then setting the world record in France later that summer. What are your memories from that season?

A: I think in that year I gained a whole career of good and bad experiences. Up until that point, my first international competition was the Goodwill Games in 1990. In the decathlon you don't get a chance to really perform and compete all that much. The failure for me in '92 was heartbreaking, but it wasn't life shattering. It wasn't devastating to the point that I ever thought that I'd stop competing. So many other people had put their hopes in me, and it really affected a lot of people around me more than it affected me because at the time I was a young athlete, and the only thing for me to do was to move forward and continue to train and look forward to the future. At the time I had to mostly console people around me. My parents were devastated and my best friends were shaken up to the core. I was like 'Wow, man. This is just sports. If you're not ready to lose, you're certainly not ready to win.' I just looked at it as a bump in the road and something that really created the life path that I would follow the next four years. Because I failed at the Trials I thought there was nothing left that season, and when I was at the Olympic Games I was so inspired in Barcelona by some of the performances that I saw that I decided the season doesn't have to end on a downer. I can make something good out of this season and get some of the things I want, and that's when I decided to go to France and push for the world record. I put a lot of pressure on myself to walk away from that event with the world record, but it was very, very hard.

Q: How did it feel to win the decathlon gold medal in Atlanta in 1996?

A: When I won it wasn't a miracle, it wasn't a shock, it wasn't a surprise to me. It was a feeling of relief. Wow! I got through it and everything went the way I wanted it to with no mess ups and no disasters. That four years from 1992 until 1996, I only took one year at a time. I thought about the '96 Olympics, but my goal was to go win another world title in '93 and then I tried to break the world record every year. I wanted to just prove every single year that I was the best. '96 was different for me. I'd been through a lot and I still have a hard time explaining to people how much pressure, stress and how nerve-wracking the Olympic Games really is. So when I got there and won it was certainly a feeling of relief.

Q: Being inducted into the Hall of Fame, you now join the amazing list of great American decathlon greats such as Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and Bruce Jenner.

A: It's a little surreal to tell you the truth. I look at those guys in terms of legendary status and it's even now hard for me to look at myself in that same group. When I look at Rafer Johnson and Bruce Jenner I can say that I was able to do what those guys were able to do, and that was to be the best in the world during my time. I was probably most proud in my whole career of my work ethic. I think I was more prepared than all the other decathletes out there, and I had a lot of good structure and I wouldn't have been able to do it without [coaches]Rick Sloan and Mike Keller.

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I do a lot of public and motivational speaking. I represent a nutritional company. I've done some infomercials recently. I'd like to get into more television work hosting shows and doing commercials. I'm a volunteer assistant coach at Arizona State University, where I work with a couple a terrific multi-event athletes, and I also do a ton of personal training with kids of all ages and do some high performance coaching.
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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young


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Mike Young
Mike Young