O’Brien “Legends” Press Conference at the World Championships


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field
317-261-0478 x317

HELSINKI, Finland -- The Helsinki organizing committee held a press conference Monday to speak with "Legends" of the World Championships and encouraged them to reminisce about their experiences at previous world championships. Olympic gold medalist, three-time world champion and former world decathlon record holder Dan O'Brien participated in today's event. The following is a Q&A:

Q: What's it like to compete in heavy rain like we have today?

O'Brien: I've competed in a lot of rain. I live in Arizona now and I don't see rain like this. Twenty minutes and that's about it. I'm a little worried about the boys in the decathlon.

Q: Does the rain bother the athletes?

O'Brien: A lot of people don't worry about it. You can worry that it can rain like this tomorrow, but it can do one of two things: it either motivates you to accept the conditions and say 'no matter what, I'm going to win today." Back in 1991, I'll never forget, that's what I did. It was raining on the start of the second day of the decathlon in Tokyo. Everybody else was under their umbrellas and kind of hiding from the rain and I went to the block start of the high hurdles and just stood in the rain. I said, "Today I'm going to win, no matter what." And I felt I had an edge over my opponents because I accepted the rain and said I don't feel it, it's not going to affect me today. Or you can let it affect you and run cautiously and try not to make any mistakes out there.

Q: Was that a spontaneous thing or did you plan it, regardless to make some sort of psychological statement?

O'Brien: I think that at that particular moment I made a stand and said "rain, snow, hot weather whatever it takes today, I'll be the toughest guy out there today. I think that's what the decathlon is about. Guys like Daly Thompson will tell you, he wants to fight harder for it. And that day I made the commitment from the beginning.

Q: Talk about the three world titles you have. What do you remember?

O'Brien: What I remember about my first title was being extremely nervous, but very ready. I'll never forget, my coaches and I, the week before we went to Tokyo we talked about winning and how important that was because we had prepared so hard for it. I had heard rumors about Christain Schenk (GER) who trained in Tokyo and how he'd thought my New York score at the U.S. Championships was not real, that it was kind of a hoax. That it was just a one-time thing. I was very bent on repeating that score. I just remember, the 400 meters as a stand-out event for me, 46.53. Everyone was talking it was the best 400-meter decathlon field ever assembled. Mike Smith was in there and Henriech Dagger, all who'd run 47 seconds. So I was a little nervous because they had personal bests that were better my own. So, it was a breakout meet for me. But one of the things that stands out most in my mind about the 1991 world championships was that I was throwing the javelin at the time that Mike Powell broke the world record in the long jump. So, that was really exciting to be on the field with that going on.

Q: Then two years later, you came in as defending champion in Stuttgart - that was a different kind of pressure.

O'Brien: I was highly motivated though because I didn't go to the Olympic Games in 1992. So, I wanted another championship. I was injured most of the season. I had a stress fracture in my pubic bone, nobody knew what it was, they couldn't diagnose it 'til way later, so I was in constant pain. But, I was fairly fit. I didn't do much training two weeks, three weeks - up until the actual competition. I managed to get through it. I think it was just that the crowd was so outstanding there. The German crowd, at 10 o'clock in the morning, the place was full until they shut it down at night. I had a couple of good events on the first day, and then on the second day the pole vault carried me through. Stuttgart was a beautiful stadium. It was the kind of stadium that when we walked into it, you were happy you were in that competition.

Q: And then the third title in Gothenburg, Sweden...talk about that.

O'Brien: Sweden was high stress for me because I was going for my 3rd world championship. The night before I competed, I saw a sports psychologist and we did some breathing techniques and try to get a little more relaxed. The next day I woke up and I was flat. I didn't run very fast, I didn't run very far, my shot put wasn't very good. I really didn't wake up and become aggressive until the 4th event in the high jump, but then I managed 2.13 and then I was on my way. Luckily, the competition wasn't so strong that year and I managed to win with 8600 points. I probably could have scored 8700 running a little faster 1500 meters, but again, the event that hurt me the most in 1992 by not making the Olympic team carried me through, the pole vault. I vaulted 5.20. Every year I think you improve in the javelin. So, two out of the final three events became my strongest at the end of my career.

Q: And then let's move on to 1996, now you really had to make that Olympic team and get the Olympic gold.

O'Brien: You know making the Olympic team for me was fairly easy. Although you know a lot of people felt pressure around me - my coaches and my training mates. I was very prepared going into the Olympic Trials. I knew it wasn't going to take a huge effort from me to make that Olympic team, but I concentrated on the pole vault a lot that year and the years prior to that, just to become a better pole vaulter. This is an interesting story. I didn't know this until afterwards. At the Olympic Trials in 1996, as I was walking out to the pole vault area, they showed my miss on the Jumbotron. I didn't see it, but my coaches saw it and they thought I saw it. It probably wouldn't have affected me. We did a lot of things that year going into the Trials because I knew I'd be asked a lot of questions, so I addressed the pole vault as often as I could. I watched video of it, so when I got to the Trials it wasn't a shock for me to talk about it. It wasn't a shock for me to see it, to deal with it. So I just desensitized myself to the fact that it was going to be a very common question. I was scheduled to come in at 4-meters-60 and at the last second, there was only one jumper, I think it was Steve Fritz, who was at 4.40 and I said, 'I'll come in." I got up, I ran down the runway and made the opening height which basically put me on the Olympic team. The press corps came running out to the field. It was like I beat them to the punch. Everyone was like 'he made it, he made it." It was the height of the pressure just left completely. The stadium and everyone was like "whew, okay" and we were off to the Olympic Games. At the Olympic Games, I was so fit that I went in just to not make any mistakes. It was my competition to win or lose and I was very consistent. After the meet was over, my coach and I looked and said, "wow, okay, okay, okay, not bad, not bad" and we got through on a very average decathlon winning the Olympic Gold medal.