An untold nugget of Tokyo 91'

  • February 13, 2019
An untold nugget of Tokyo 91'

TOKYO 1991 – to most athletics fans this championship is remembered by the famous long jump duel between Carl Lewis and Mike Powell. Lewis had not lost a long jump competition in a decade and he showed no signs of giving up by producing a jump of 8.91m (wind-aided), as well as a legal mark of 8.87m. One of the fiercest battles in the history of field events ended by Mike Powell breaking the world record and winning the championship with a result of 8.95m. His record still holds.

However, this is not the only story worth re-visiting old championship archives.

One such story, perhaps completely untold, comes in the form of a young, talented American athlete, Dan O’Brien. O’Brien was totally new to the international decathlon stage by 1991.

Dan was ready to show himself to the world. After two false starts in his heat (at the time it was legal for each decathlete to false start once) he opened the competition in the 100m with 10.41 into a headwind. He led the field by 77 points. He was off to a good start.

Then a massive 7.90m long lump without even touching the board followed. Then a personal best in the shot put of 16.24m! At this point, many experts wondered if it’s even possible to catch this kind of performer. O’Brien seemed to be surfing on his own wave. Some perhaps started thinking about Daley Thomson’s world record’s soon fall.

Then the high jump happened…

Dan safely opened the competition with 1.91 as he was capable of heights at around 2.10m. The next height for him seemed to be unnecessary, and he passed to 1.97.

What happened next was unimaginable. He missed all three attempts on 1.97m and was left with just his open height result. Soon to become the world championship record holder made 1.91 in the high jump competition.

Did that discourage him? Most likely, as he had been smoothly surfing the first three events of the competition. Perhaps this could have been his competition of a lifetime. For example, 2.09 would have provided with extra 163 points. Could have, would have, should have. Right? That’s the beauty of the decathlon.

What he did next was not weak and sorrow filled effort. He exploded and ran a blazing 46.53s 400m decathlon race and finished the first day with 4602 points!

O’Brien kept rolling in a safe and solid manner on the hot and humid 2nd day and finished strong with a new personal best in the 1500m as well as a new championship record as well as personal best in the decathlon of 8812 points!

So here you have it: an untold story of Dan O’Brien’s entering the world track and field arena with a loud championship record noise.


Dan O’Brien (USA) – Gold

Mike Smith (Canada) – Silver

Christian Schenk (Germany) – Bronze



*Christian Schenk, German (former East German) Olympic champion from 88’ Seoul Olympics. He was the only man in the decathlon high jump competition still using the old straddle technique. He easily cleared 2.18m. (Schenk still shares the world decathlon high jump record of 2.27m). Something that you would not see in today’s high jump competitions. Schenk in 2018 came out confessing doping use before the Seoul Olympics that was prevalent in East Germany.


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