Track & Field Remains A Way Of Life For Dan O’Brien

Olympic gold medalist to serve as analyst for ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (theACC.com) – With Dan O’Brien behind the mic as color analyst, this week’s ESPN3 broadcasts of the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships will rank second to none in terms of knowledge and insight.

O’Brien reached the pinnacle of track and field at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta by capturing the gold medal in the decathlon and earning official recognition as the “World’s Greatest Athlete.”

“Because I competed and trained in the decathlon, I was able to learn pretty much all the different disciplines and events in track and field,” O’Brien said. “When I analyze events, I try to give the viewer the perspective of the athlete.”

Nearly two decades after his Olympic gold success, O’Brien remains fully immersed in the sport he loves. He currently serves as master of ceremonies for every major USA Track & Field event, and he is heavily involved in a number of programs in which he serves as a mentor to young student-athletes. He is in his ninth year as a volunteer assistant coach at Arizona State.

“Athletes today have many advantages over the athletes from decades ago – better facilities, better equipment and much more knowledgeable coaches and trainers,” O’Brien said. “And because of early specialization, athletes today are competing at a higher level. Today’s athletes also are able to take much better care of themselves through nutrition, massage, chiropractic and other methods that help lead to longer healthier careers.  Just look at the records.”

It actually took an incredible 21 years for O’Brien’s American decathlon record to fall. He held the mark from 1991 until 2012 – a feat in he credits in large part to the coaching he himself received.

“I learned all my events from one of the best multi event and field event coaches in the world (in) Rick Sloan at Washington State University,” O’Brien said. “I didn't just want to be a great decathlete, I wanted to perfect each and every event.  Track athletes can only be as good as the coaches that teach them.  If a coach is not up to par it is difficult for an athlete to succeed at a high level.”

O’Brien seeks to be that coach with each and every one of the young athletes with which he works, but he is most proud of his role in helping to develop life skills. He works closely with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as part of the Olympic Ambassador Program, counseling current athletes in the areas of media training, preparation and peak performance.

“The program is a Team USA program for all U.S. athletes headed to Olympics and World Championship events,” O’Brien explained. “Along with other past Olympians, I had the opportunity to speak to teams like USA Basketball, the U.S. Ski Team and USA Swimming, just to name a few.  We met with every National Governing Body to share Olympic experiences – what to expect, ‘dos and don’ts,’ flag etiquette and leaving a legacy through sports.

“The most rewarding part of the program for me was sharing my experiences – both positive and negative – with young athletes and seeing those athletes participate in the games. This made me feel like I made a positive contribution to their successes.”

A native of Portland, Oregon, O’Brien was adopted at the age of two and raised in a home with seven other children of racially mixed backgrounds. From there, he went on to graduate from the University of Idaho, where he first turned heads as an elite amateur athlete by earning All-America honors in the 55-meter hurdles. The school’s “Dan O’Brien Track Complex” is named in his honor.

“My background both with and without my family shaped who I was as an athlete,” O’ Brien said. “It was through sports that I gained confidence and a real feeling of self-worth. I didn't grow up in the best of circumstances.  I tell young athletes that no matter what your race or where you’re from, no matter what your financial situation is, if you have a dream it can be achieved.

“Basically, anything is possible – if you believe.”

Note: ESPN3 coverage of the 2015 ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championship from the Mike Long Track in Tallahassee, Florida, will be streamed lived from 7-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15; and from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 16.

The Dan O’Brien File

Age: 48 (July 18, 1966)
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon
Residence: Scottsdale, Arizona
College: University of Idaho
Height: 6-2
Weight: 190
Event: Decathlon
Career highlights: 1998 Goodwill Games Gold Medal … 1996 Olympic Gold Medal and U.S. Champion … 1995 U.S. and Word Champion … 1994 Goodwill Game Gold Medal and U.S. Champion … 1993 U.S. and World Champion … 1992 Decathlon World Record (8,891) … 1991 U.S. and World Champion … 1991-2012 American Decathlon Record Holder