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O'Brien on mission to set world record in decathlon


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Dan is no longer to be confused with Dave.

Just ask Dave.

"Dan is doing so well, he's head and shoulders above everyone else," said Dave Johnson, a 1992 Olympic bronze medalist in the decathlon. "At any competition, he could set a world record. My job, basically, is to scare him into a world record. That's all any of us can do with him right now."

a,3 Dan O'Brien has been on a mission since the million-dollar debacle on June 27, 1992, in New Orleans, where he missed the opening height in the pole vault of the U.S. trials and didn't make the Olympic team.

O'Brien, 29, wants to set another world record. He wants to win a gold medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. And he needs redemption for that effort in the pole vault on a distance (15 feet, 9 inches) he had cleared easily a dozen times in practice.

The assault on the world record began last night at the USA Mobil Track and Field championships at Hughes Stadium in the first five events of the decathlon.

But O'Brien has little chance at the world record of 8,891 points he set in 1992. His shot put of 50-1 3/4 placed him second behind Chris Huffins, who had 2,891 points compared to 2,830 for O'Brien after three events.

O'Brien ran the 100 in 10.36 and had a long jump of 25-8 on his third attempt. He false-started in his sprint race and scratched on his second long jump.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was first after three events in the women's heptathlon with 3,836 points. Kym Carter was second (3,816). It was the lowest first-day total for Kersee since 1984. She has been bothered by problems with her left hamstring.

"It was a poor day, but I'll accept it," said Kersee, who suffered from dehydration after the events. "The injury happens to be more mental than physical. I expect to make a comeback tomorrow."

As expected, Michael Johnson (45.47) had little trouble winning his preliminary heat of the 400, but 1988 gold medalists Steve Lewis (46.48) and Danny Everett (46.74) did not advance.

O'Brien had three great chances last year to break his world record, but the Portland, Ore., native had trouble in the concluding 1,500 meters event.

But O'Brien changed his practice schedule to include 1,500's in workouts once a week for the past few months. He is confident he will score in the 8,800's in this meet, and one day set another world record with a mark over 9,000.

"I came to grips with the 1,500 this year," said O'Brien. "I realize to win the gold medal at the Olympics or World Championships, I don't have to be great at it, but I have to be good.

"I don't think it was a mental block. I just didn't do the work."

Mike Keller, O'Brien's coach, said that's the biggest difference. O'Brien's party animal days and long nights are over.

O'Brien no longer survives just on athletic talent, but has become a technician. A month ago, O'Brien (13.47) beat Roger Kingdom (13.48) in the 110-meter hurdles, possibly the first time a decathlon world-record holder beat a two-time Olympic champion in his specialty.

"Years ago, we were inexperienced at some events," said Keller. "We're no longer learning, but conquering. I've said before that failure is a part of life, and Dan's was magnified. People who handle those failures, they are the ones who become important."

Reebok featured him and Johnson in a $25 million advertising campaign that asked, "Who is the world's greatest athlete . . . Dan or Dave? To be settled in Barcelona."

O'Brien made the trip, but as a TV commentator. He watched Robert Zmelik of Czechoslovakia win the gold medal with 8,611 points to 8,412 for Spain's Antonio Penalver. Johnson was third with 8,309.

"Who knows if I'd still be doing this if I won in Barcelona?" said O'Brien, a 1993 World Champion. "You'd definitely have to say the mishap in New Orleans prolonged my career. I don't think about New Orleans, but what I learned there."

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