Since retiring from competition, O’Brien has been honored with induction into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2006 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012. He is also the author of Clearing Hurdles: The Quest to Be the World’s Greatest Athlete.
Dan O’Brien was born July 18, 1966 in Portland, Oregon. Though his heritage is of shared African American and Finnish descent, O’Brien was adopted by an Irish-American family living in the Klamath Falls area at an early age. O’Brien, like many men and women who would go on to become Olympic athletes, showed promise in track and field as early as high school.
After high school, O’Brien went to the University of Idaho where he excelled in track and field, particularly the decathlon. After graduating from the University of Idaho, Dan O’Brien began his Olympic training. O’Brien’s Olympic experiences would include the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and he learned that the greatest successes can grow from previous failures.
After winning the world championship in the decathlon in 1991, O’Brien was considered the favorite to win gold in the event at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Reebok even created advertisements featuring him and fellow American decathlete Dave Johnson to promote awareness for the sport and their products. Unfortunately for O’Brien, he would not even make the ’92 Olympic team, crashing out in the US Olympic Trials after earning a “no height” grade and zero points in the pole vault event.
Rebounding from that failure, O’Brien again won the decathlon world championships in 1993 and 1995 and then earned his Olympic gold medal in the event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.