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O'Brien boosts U.S. in decathlon with second-best-ever score


NEW YORK -- For those who tune into track and field once every four years, remember this name: Dan O'Brien. His event is the decathlon, and his destiny may be to become a Wheaties cereal box cover boy.

Yesterday, before a crowd of 1,500 that included past Olympic champions Bruce Jenner and Daley Thompson, O'Brien accumulated the second-highest point total in the 80-year history of the decathlon.

He won the gold medal at the USA/Mobil Championships by recording 8,884 points, only three points shy of Thompson's world record of 8,847 set at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Because of a wind-aided performance in the 110-meter hurdles and the absence of a wind gauge at several events on the first day, O'Brien's performance will not surpass Jenner's American record of 8,634. But it may be only a matter of time before O'Brien becomes the first man to record 9,000 points in the 10-event test of speed, strength and endurance.

"Now, it looks like the world record is a realistic possibility," O'Brien said. "In a big meet, with allowable wind, I believe I can officially break the American record and give the world record a real go."

O'Brien's performance dominated the second day of the national championships.

* Despite a groin-muscle injury that forced her to approach the long jump gingerly and back off in the 800-meter run, Jackie Joyner-Kersee won her third consecutive heptathlon title with 6,878 points.

* World cross country champion Lynn Jennings won the women's 10,000 meters in 34 minutes, 45.88 seconds, and Francie Larrieu-Smith was second in 34:40.45.

* Leroy Burrell won his first two heats of the 100 meters, and Floyd Heard out-leaned Carl Lewis to win a semifinal in a wind-aided 10.4 seconds.

* Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster emerged as the two top qualifiers heading into today's 110-meter hurdle final.

But Day 2 of the national championships probably will be remembered for the introduction of a new American track star. O'Brien is 24 and lives in Portland, Ore. Adopted at the age of 2, O'Brien has overcome adversity away from the track. He battled a drinking problem and struggled to retain his college eligibility at Idaho. Two years ago, to make financial ends meet, he worked part time at a golf course while trying to train. Known as a swift, if uncertain competitor, he credits a recent 90-minute conversation with Jenner for providing his career with focus.

"I wanted to have people like Jenner be proud of me," O'Brien said.

After finishing first or second in eight events and recording six personal bests, O'Brien was poised to become the sport's first 8,900-point man yesterday. But he sagged in the 1,500-meter run, finishing ninth in 4:45.54.

"Bruce Jenner came up to me before the 1,500. He said, 'Seize the moment,' " O'Brien said.

Despite the flat finish, the two-day performance electrified the decathlon community.

"Dan is superman," said decathlon historian Frank Zarnowski. "He has the tools. He is fast, and this sport rewards speed."

O'Brien wasn't the only decathlete to soar yesterday. Two-time national champion Dave Johnson was second with 8,467 points.

"Eventually, Dan O'Brien will be the best in the world on the first day of the decathlon, and I'll be the best in the world on the second day," Johnson said. "One of us will score 9,000. The Americans are back in the decathlon."

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