Exclusive Q&A: 'World's Greatest Athlete' Dan O'Brien dishes on his career
Dan O'Brien is widely regarded as the best decathlete of the 1990's for winning an Olympic gold medal following three consecutive world titles. In fact, he was the first American winner in the sport since Bruce Jenner in 1976.
Currently Dan is a Brand Ambassador for USA Track & Field and works closely with the USOC as part of its Olympic Ambassador Program, mentoring current athletes in the areas of media training, preparation and peak performance.
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AOL Sports had the chance to catch up with Dan, who discussed his career, the importance of fitness and good nutrition, his love for competing and more.
Q: Out of all the achievements you've had, which one do you still pinch yourself about today?
A: It's interesting because when I look back at my career, the most satisfying was the Olympic gold medal. I had won everything else –- records, world championships, and this was the last piece of the puzzle. I had won everything in my event and that was the crowning moment of my career. When you can take the sport to another level, which very few have been able to do, it's very nerve-racking. It's something you have to work on from a mental standpoint.
Q: Was it always the goal to reach that level?
A: It was something that came to me later. As a kid, I watched the Olympics on television and I become extremely inspired. I dreamed what it'd be like to wear the uniform and to feel the country get behind you in the greatest sporting moment. I dreamed about it ever since I saw the 1980 team win at Lake Placid. I didn't dream bout it in high school and college, but it came later for me. I set goals and it was something where it came later.
Q: One really cool accomplishment some people may not know about, you set a world record for fastest game of hopscotch in 2009. How did that come about?
A: I did a summer program for Crayola. They were trying to get people to pledge on the amount of time they'd spend outside exercising -- and I tried to break the world record for it to kick off the event. I practiced for a solid month in my garage. It's not easy. It helps if you have small feet, which I don't, but I tried it. The rain fell and my stone fell right where I tneeded to and I ended up breaking the record. It was about a year untul someone else broke it. We got over 100 millions hours pledged and it was a lot of fun.
Q: You've clearly taken fitness and nutrition very seriously throughout your life. What advice would you give to someone who wants to improve in those two areas in their own life?
A: One of the things I do every day is sweat. I think that sweating is very spiritual. It feels like I'm released toxins. It's a very zen thing for me to shut my mind down, get on a bike, go for a run and it created the endorphins I needed to get through the day. I try to figure out a way to be active. I wasn't the most nutrionally educated athlete. That was something that came later. I sought out people who were smater than I was. As an athlete, you learn to take care of yourself and you become aware of your body. We go through life in pain and uncomfortable, but there's answers and cures to everything out there.
Q: You coached eight years at ASU and are now working more in the organization for USA Track and Field as a brand ambassador who find opportunities for track and field athletes to go into the corporate world and become better speakers and presenters. How did a passion for coaching and helping others form?
A: You know, coaching to me was the next best thing to competing. I love training. It was my passion. Competing was difficult because it's stressful. Coaching was closest thing I could find to competing. Now, helping people achieve goals and get to another level is something that's really important to me.
Q: What advice would you give to an athlete going to the Olympics for the first time?
A: I would say to be ready for the most stressful times in your entire career. When I went to he games I had been through a lot prior to that. I had been to a couple trials, couple world championships and I took for granted that I thought the Olympics would be like another track meet. It was bigger, it was grander. It took my by surprise. Be ready mentially to experience a higher level of attention than you've ever gotten before. Take into consideration that there's a kid out there who will want to be an Olympian because what you do there. We all grew up looking at someone and said 'I want to be like that person.'