Henley High School graduate Dan O’Brien had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season.
Saturday night in Barcelona, Spain, O’Brien was one of 24 track and field greats inducted into the new international Hall of Fame, part of an inaugural class that included Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Michael Johnson, Sergey Bubka, Sebastian Coe, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and a host of other greats.
“I was surprised when I first heard about it,” O’Brien said, “but I’m thrilled to be inducted into the this first (2012) class. It’s a great honor.”
Saturday’s induction ceremonies cap a great year for O’Brien.
“It’s a year I will never forget,” he said.
He first was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the year was topped in Barcelona where he had been expected to win the first of two gold medals in the decathlon. Most decathlon aficionados remember the no-height in the pole vault, the only blot on his otherwise brilliant career.
O’Brien lasted longer than many decathletes in his chosen specialty.
“It makes me reflect on the world championships and the great experiences I had overseas while I competed,” O’Brien said of Saturday’s honor. “I saw a lot of great performances. It was at the world championships that I had my biggest breakthroughs and gained the confidence to eventually win gold in Atlanta.”
1991 battle recalled
He alluded to the long jump battle between Carl Lewis and Mike Powell in 1991 when the latter broke the world record in Toyko, Bubka’s 20-foot pole vault, Kevin Young’s world 400-meter hurdle record and Javiet Sotomeyer’s 7-feet, 11-inch high jump.
O’Brien won world titles in 1991, 1993 and 1995 to go with his 1996 Olympic victory. He overcame his 1992 Olympic disappointment by setting a world record about a month after the Barcelona Games, a mark that stood for more than a decade.
“The IAAF (the world governing agency for track and field) is the unseen federation that really does allow track and field athletes the opportunity to be professional,” O’Brien said. “Without it, we would only be competing every four years at the Olympics.”
The organization set stringent rules for its inaugural Hall of Fame class.
To be eligible, an athlete had to have won at least two Olympic and/or world championships, and set at least one world record. Athletes also must have been retired for at least 10 years at the time of election into the Hall of Fame.
The IAAF plans to add at least four athletes a year to its Hall of Fame, starting in 2013.
Provisions are being considered to open eligibility to athlete’s whose achievement had an extraordinary impact on track and field.
Joining O’Brien and the aforementioned Hall members inducted Saturday night were Stefka Kostadinova, Paavo Nurmi, Al Oerter, Jesse Owens, Peter Snell, Irena Szewinska, Abebe Bikila, Vladimor Golubnichiy, Adhemar de Silva, Iolanda Balas, Fanny Blankers-Klein, Betty Cuthbert, Mildred “Babe’ Didriksen, Emil Zatopek, Alberto Juantorena, Wang Junxia and Kip Keino.
The inaugural IAAF Hall of Fame class of 2012 encompassed almost every decade of the sport, dating back to 1910, and virtually every event in track and field. Golubnichiy is the prime example, and his specialty was the 20-kilometer race walk.
“I don’t think there is anything left to win, honestly,” O’Brien said. He then joked: “Although I would like to go back and win that Henley state championship in football that got away from me in 1984.”
Steve Matthies is the Herald and News sports editor. He can be reached at 541-885-4411, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.