Thanks to their decathlon talent and the alliterative one-two punch of their all-American names, they became the stars of track and field's catchiest ad campaign: Dan and Dave—To Be Settled in Barcelona. But in the end, despite the $25 million that Reebok spent on the campaign, neither Dan O'Brien nor Dave Johnson won the decathlon at the 1992 Olympics. The gold went to Robert Zmelik, a Czech whose cause was helped by two strokes of fortune: first, O'Brien's no-heighting in the pole vault at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and second, Johnson's developing a stress fracture in his right ankle just weeks before the Games.
Johnson won the bronze in Barcelona with a score of 8,309 points, far below his trials-winning total of 8,649 but an astonishing performance considering the courage it took to hurdle on a bone that could crack open on any landing. "It hurts so much I can't even feel it," Johnson allowed when his ordeal was finally over.
Johnson never complained during the competition and hasn't complained in the four years that have followed. "I learned so much from getting that bronze," he says. "I'm not sure a gold would have taught me as much."
Johnson, who lives in Pomona, Calif., has continued to train for the decathlon, though he has learned that his body cannot recover as fast at age 33 as it did at age 29. His ankle was set in 1992 with two titanium screws, which frequently make it sore, and a painful pulled muscle in his foot kept him from sprinting for about three months beginning last December. He has a good second career in the javelin, finishing sixth at the 1993 U.S. nationals.
Mostly, though, Dave has been a dad. The first event of his day is neither lifting nor sprinting but making breakfast for his daughters, 3�-year-old Alexandra, whom he and his wife, Sheri, adopted in 1992, and Makenzie, aged 14 months. He then spends five hours at the Azusa Pacific track, training under his longtime coach, Terry Franson. Johnson has found time to write an autobiography, Aim High, which was published in 1994, and he plans to start a master's degree in marriage and family counseling after the Olympics.
Johnson will try this week to become the first American to make three Olympic teams in the decathlon. He has decided against also attempting to make the team in the javelin, preferring to save his arm for the decathlon. He firmly believes that a medal is within his reach.
Johnson is looking forward to a reunion at the trials with his old pal O'Brien, whom he sees a few times a year at meets and clinics. "I'm looking forward to giving him all the support I can," says Johnson. "If I can sit next to him, I think I can help him relax and score his best."