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Track and Field
Tim Layden
July 27, 1998
Still the Man Dan O'Brien turned back time, and Chris Huffins, at the Goodwill Games
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July 27, 1998

Track And Field

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Still the Man
Dan O'Brien turned back time, and Chris Huffins, at the Goodwill Games

Together Dan O'Brien and the decathlon have shared a gold medal (at the 1996 Olympics), three world championships and a six-year-old world record that still stands. Yet they have never been good friends. "Every competition has scared me to death," says O'Brien. "I love training, but competing is another thing altogether." He won the unofficial title of world's greatest athlete in Atlanta, but a year later he was dumped by his shoe sponsor, Nike, whose representatives told him that the company that invented creative athletic packaging couldn't figure out how to market the greatest decathlete in history. In all, O'Brien's career has been fabulously successful—but a little less than fulfilling.

O'Brien's performance at this week's Goodwill Games in New York, however, was one of the major surprises of the season. After missing all of 1997 with assorted injuries and evoking suspicion that he was finished, he scored 8,755 points, his sixth-best total ever, to win the first decathlon that he has entered since Atlanta.

Although at 32 O'Brien may be near the end of his career, he's clearly not packing up. "I'm going to stick around until they throw me out," he says. "I want another world championship and I want another Olympic gold medal."

He might just get it, and join Bob Mathias (1948, '52) and Daley Thompson ('80, '84) as the only repeat Olympic decathlon winners. In oppressive heat and blustery winds at the Goodwill Games on Monday, O'Brien overhauled 28-year-old U.S. champion Chris Huffins with a spectacular second day in which he set a decathlon personal best in the 110-meter hurdles (13.67 seconds) and equaled his best in the pole vault (17'�"). His score through nine events, 8,245 points, was the best in history.

Huffins scored a respectable 8,576 points. Like O'Brien, the 6'2", 190-pound Huffins is fast and explosive. He is such a gifted athlete that the Oakland Raiders have invited him for a tryout five times. He has declined, saying, "Football isn't a good sport to play if your heart isn't in it." Besides, he has a rivalry to deal with, the decathlon's first since Dan and Dave in '92.

Getting on Track
Bailey, Johnson: Not So Fast

The World's Fastest Human competition between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson in June 1997 was an artistic and financial fiasco that did lasting damage to track and field. It also seems that the 150-meter match race at Toronto's SkyDome did little more for its participants than add to their already considerable wealth; neither has been the same athlete since. The two men arrived at the Goodwill Games struggling to regain the form that brought Bailey the '96 Olympic 100-meter gold medal and the world record of 9.84 seconds and carried Johnson to an unprecedented sweep of the Olympic 200 and 400 and a stunning world record of 19.32 in the 200.

Going into Tuesday's Goodwill 100 meters, Bailey had broken 10 seconds in the 100 just five times (in 22 tries) since the Toronto race—in which Johnson pulled up with a quadriceps injury—and not at all since last August. As he has struggled, Bailey has adopted the surly persona that he affected in promoting the match race. He has made thinly veiled and unsupported charges that 100-meter world champion Maurice Greene and his training partner Ato Boldon use performance-enhancing drugs. Bailey also refuses to run against the two.

When he burst onto the international scene by winning the 100 at the 1995 worlds, Bailey was a delight, a former stockbroker with a sense of humor and just a touch of arrogance. Now he has become more like 1992 Olympic 100 champion Linford Christie of Great Britain, a humorless egomaniac. At least Christie ran fast almost to the end of his career.

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