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“I was so upset for him,” Johnson recalled. “I just wanted to support him as much as I could for the next month or two.”

Reebok quickly pulled the Dan and Dave ads and scrambled to find a new angle, one with O'Brien cheering Johnson on.

“It was tough in Barcelona because I expected him to be there,” Johnson said. “I trained with him, I was prepared to compete against him, and we were going to help each other through the experience. But I was more concerned with Dan. His hopes and dreams were on hold.”

Gold was not in the offing for Johnson, either, but he managed to win bronze despite competing with a broken foot.

Picking up the pieces

O'Brien continued his quest to become the world’s greatest athlete. Less than a month later, he received a small measure of redemption when he set the world record in the decathlon at a meet in Talence, France, scoring 8,891 points. O'Brien now knew he was the best athlete in the world — he just didn’t have an Olympic gold medal to show for it.

Shaking off the disappointment of not making it to Barcelona, O'Brien continued to compete, winning gold medals at the 1993 and 1995 World Championships. He’d also won gold at the 1991 World Championships.

In 1996, at the Atlanta Games, O'Brien won the gold medal that had eluded him four years earlier. This time, Dan had to compete without Dave.

Johnson made it as far as the trials in 1996, but nagging foot injuries kept him from making the Olympic team. He retired in 1997. O'Brien also retired after winning Olympic gold — the goal he had set almost a decade earlier. It was just one of his many hurdles.

Clearing his first hurdle

Long before O'Brien became a household name, he was a young man with more obstacles than most.

Born in Portland, Ore., Daniel Dion O’Brien was an orphan. He never has met his biological parents. He knows only that his father was black, and his mother Scandinavian.

O'Brien was 2 when he was adopted by Jim and Virginia O’Brien, and moved to their Klamath Falls, Ore., home as one of eight children, six of whom were adopted.

O'Brien didn’t show signs of his athletic gifts until his second year of high school, when he developed an interest in football and track. It was his high school coach who suggested he try the decathlon.

Within a year, O'Brien won the Oregon state championships in the 100 meters, 110-meter hurdles, long jump and high jump, along with a track scholarship to the University of Idaho. Ultimately, failing grades and a lack of discipline caused him to lose the scholarship.

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