Did Dan O’Brien Miss Out on Competing in the 1992 Olympics Due to an Act of Pride?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the Olympics and Olympians and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Olympic urban legends featured so far.

OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND: Dan O’Brien missed out on competing in the 1992 Olympics due to an act of pride.

Dan O’Brien is one of the greatest decathlete of all time.

His single season points record of 8,891 (set IN 1992, of all years!) was the world record for seven years, and still remains the United States record.

His drive to win is world renowned.

However, that very same drive to win might have led to his downfall in 1992.

Leading up to the 1992 Olympics, the sneaker company Reebok turned two little-known decathletes, Dave Johnson and Dan O’Brien (both from Oregon) into national stars, via Reebok’s “Dan vs. Dave” commercials.

The amusing commercials depicted the two men at various states of their lives, and played up the rivalry between the two personable, fairly evenly matched competitors (although O’Brien was the slight favorite), as they both seemed to be good bets for winning the Gold Medals at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barecelona, Spain.

Here’s a sampling of their commercials…

Sadly, though, Dave Johnson suffered a stress fracture in his foot at the beginning of the Olympics in 1992. He persevered, though, and simply got himself a larger sneaker, tied it tight and competed on the broken foot and came in third place, winning the Bronze Medal!

O’Brien, however, did not even QUALIFY for the 1992 Olympics!

First off, it is noteworthy to point out that a lot of countries out there don’t even HAVE trials to decide who gets to go to the Olympics. They just pick who they feel are their best athletes and that’s it. The United States, however, forces everyone to earn their way on to the team, even if it means that their best athletes get left off because they had bad days.

O’Brien’s bad day occurred at the U.S. trials at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, where O’Brien failed to clear the pole vault in his three given tries, leaving him with zero points in an event he figured to get over 800 points in.

The real reason that O’Brien failed to make the cut was simple bad luck. He just happened to not clear the bars. It was at a height, 15 feet 9 inches, that he COULD clear and HAS cleared before (in fact, he only recently before the trials had cleared 16 feet 1 inch).

However, the fact of the matter is that 15 feet 9 inches IS pretty darn tall, and it was at a height where he did not NEED it to be to qualify. O’Brien would have qualified for the Olympics if he had cleared anything over 9 feet 2 1/4 inches. And O’Brien certainly knew that he only needed to clear a nominal height. He ALSO knew that to pass Johnson, he would likely need a high height.

O’Brien did not want to just QUALIFY, he wanted to beat Johnson and also hope to set a new World Record in the decathlon, so he could not try for the lower heights.

And so he was eliminated.

In 1996, he was back, with only one concession – in the trials he attempted a 15 foot 1 inch poll vault instead of 15 feet 9 inches. O’Brien went on to convincingly win the Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

So, when it boils down to it, did Dan O’Brien miss out on the Olympics because of pride?

STATUS: In a Roundabout Way, I say True

Thanks to bostonnewsarchives for the commercial clips!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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