Above all, Keller and Rick Sloan, a Washington State assistant who coaches O'Brien in the field events, are fed up with being second-guessed. From the moment O'Brien missed his third attempt, people questioned the decision to have him start vaulting at 15'9" when a lower height would have given him enough points to qualify for the team. One woman left a threatening message on Keller's answering machine, accusing him of "ruining that boy's life" and telling him to "get out of town."
"Listen," says Sloan. "For the last year and a half, Dan has not vaulted at lower than 15'9" in practice, and he's never missed it. He looked so good warming up—he cleared 16'1" easily—we thought 15'9" was a conservative jump."
O'Brien took last week off. That meant golf. On Tuesday, O'Brien, who has a 12 handicap, played 18 holes on the university course. Then on Wednesday he played 27 more. And on Thursday he flew to Los Angeles to appear with Dave Johnson on The Arsenio Hall Show.
On Saturday morning he had his first workout since the trials, driving to nearby Pullman to work with Sloan in the Washington State weight room. "That's when the real healing begins," says Sloan. "When you take that first step toward your next goal."
O'Brien spent Saturday afternoon at the Elks Golf Club, watching the Fourth of July tournament. One of the golfers, Joe McGurkin, was wearing one of Reebok's DAN hats. So was towheaded Mitchell Walker, who is five years old and thinks O'Brien's picture is on a penny. O'Brien got a big hug from a gray-haired lady named Lee Mills, who admitted that as she watched the trials on TV, "my heart just dropped."
O'Brien admits to thinking of the money he has probably lost by not making the team. "I had the opportunity to set myself up, I guess," he says. "But I can't be bummed about money I never had." None of O'Brien's sponsors, including Reebok, has dropped him, and NBC has hired him to do color commentary in Barcelona.
Sloan has always said that along with his 100-meter speed—his 10.23 is the fastest ever in a decathlon—O'Brien's greatest asset as a decathlete is his ability to forget. That ability will be tested in the months ahead, as O'Brien prepares for his next meet, in Talence, France, on Sept. 4 and 5. Indeed, his confidence seemed undiminished last week as he looked ahead. "I know," he said, "I can break the world record."