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Refusing to allow his career to end before it began, O'Brien sought the help of his former coach at Idaho and began the long climb back. He attended junior college, working to pay his way this time, raised his grades and wound up qualifying for the 1988 Olympic trials. O'Brien, however, withdrew after sustaining an injury in the long jump.

It was shortly after missing out on that Olympic team when O'Brien found himself back at Idaho and got a chance to meet the former decathlon champions for the first time.

“I said, ‘I want what they have, and that’s the title of the world’s greatest athlete.’”

O'Brien had just cleared another hurdle.

Retirement, then back to work

A mischievous smile crosses O'Brien’s face when he’s asked about what he’s been up to since he retired.

“Not a whole bunch,” O'Brien joked.

“For about 10 years after I retired, from age 30 to 40, I lived in Scottsdale Ariz., played golf and drank a lot of beer,” O'Brien said. “At the age of 40, my financial adviser said, ‘You know what, you’re going to run out of money. You’d better do some work.’ So I recommitted myself to the sport that I love so much, track and field.”

Calling upon the dedication he’d let slide while enjoying retirement, O'Brien didn’t get just one job. He got several.

He worked as a broadcaster for NBC and became an assistant track coach at Arizona State. He serves in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s ambassador program and works with USA Track & Field. In London, he’ll be covering the decathlon for Yahoo.

Not one to hold back his opinions, O'Brien says he likes the makeup of this year’s U.S. team.

“There are no huge surprises on the team,” O'Brien said. “We’re sending, in my opinion, the strongest people we can. I truly believe that the cream rises to the top, and you saw that in a lot of the races [at the trials].”

One of those athletes O'Brien called the “cream of the crop” is Ashton Eaton, whose 9,039 points at this year’s trials broke O'Brien’s 20-year-old American record and established a world record.

“He just didn’t let down,” O'Brien said. “I don’t know if I had been in the same position I would have run my guts out in the 1,500. But he absolutely went for it. That’s what separates him. With that mindset and that ability, no one will be able to touch him.”

State of U.S. track

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