Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

By Any Name, Dan O'brien Is World's Greatest Athlete

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

By Any Name, Dan O'brien Is World's Greatest Athlete

Article excerpt

In his first foster home, they called him Wesley. In the second, they called him Dion. His adoptive parents named him Dan.

And now all can call him this: the world's greatest athlete.

Although obscured by the hullabaloo over Michael Johnson's completion of his double-sprint gold medals on Thursday at the Atlanta Olympic Stadium, Dan O'Brien at last won gold in the punishing 10-event decathlon.

"I told him," teammate Chris Huffins said, "that he's The Man."

In the process, O'Brien went from near-breakdown to breakthrough, cleansing the distasteful memory of his failure to even qualify for the 1992 Games of Barcelona.

"I'll never forget about 1992," O'Brien said recently, referring to the trauma in the aftermath of "no-heighting" in the pole vault of the U.S. track and field trials. "It's something that motivates me every time I step out . . . in a major competition."

But he began to scrub that blemish away merely by qualifying for the Atlanta Games during this year's trials, and, in fact, has eyed a higher prize in the last few weeks.

"I can say I'm the world's greatest athlete," said O'Brien, who indeed does that in the mirror every morning, "but it doesn't mean anything without the Olympic gold medal. To win gold, that means you're the world's greatest athlete."

He made it official Thursday by completing the 1,500-meter run, the final event, in 4 minutes 45.89 seconds to finish with 8,824 points. He needed it to hold off Germany's Frank Busemann, who finished second with 8,706, and the Czech Republic's Tomas Dvorak (8,664).

O'Brien's final mark was 23 behind the Olympic record of Great Britain's Daley Thompson and 67 off his own world record. Yet it was solely the gold medal that he was pursuing.

"Believe it or not, I expected to be up here (before the media)," he said. "It's what I thought about every night for the last four years. I think that's one of the reasons I'm up here. If there was ever a day I didn't think I could have done it, that might have been the day I quit."

O'Brien, who now has won 11 successive decathlon competitions, experienced a microcosm of the last four years during the 10 events. …

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