Dan 'N Dave's Decathlon Duel

NEW ORLEANS - As a college athlete, Dan O'Brien stuck to a strict weekly regimen in Moscow, Idaho.

"Monday was Bogart's, Tuesday was Mort's, Wednesday was a frat party, Thursday was Murdock's, Friday and Saturday was the dance club, and Sunday was watching football games," he said. "I was drinking basically all the time."

As a teenager, Dave Johnson was on the road to jail, not Olympic glory. One of his favorite stunts was to smear ketchup on his face and lie in the middle of the road until somebody stopped. He began breaking into homes and stealing kegs of beer from a liquor warehouse.

Today, the two decathletes are squeaky-clean TV commercial stars hoping to become the first Americans to finish 1-2 at the Olympics since Milt Campbell and Rafer Johnson in 1956.

After months of teasing Reebok commercials, which pose the question, "Who is the world's greatest athlete?" and provide the open-ended answer, "to be settled in Barcelona," Dan and Dave are finally ready to show curious Americans they're not good-looking actors but real decathletes.

They begin the two-day, 10-event decathlon today at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

The Dan-and-Dave duel will share the spotlight with the 400-meter final, in which Butch Reynolds is shooting for the top three.

O'Brien, 25, the current world champion, is favored because of his exceptional speed, but he has been bothered recently by a stress fracture in his right shin.

Johnson, 29, has the highest score in the world this year and is strongest in the discus, javelin and 1,500. The men are out to break the world record of 8,847 points, set by Daley Thompson of Great Britain, and surpass the 9,000-point barrier - if not here, in Barcelona.

O'Brien and Johnson were recovering alcoholics nobody outside track and field circles had heard of until Reebok launched its $20 million advertising campaign during the Super Bowl.

Since January, viewers have seen Dan and Dave as babies and 4-year-olds and have heard their mailmen, ministers, paper boys and mothers predict who will win.

O'Brien, a star athlete in high school, earned a scholarship to Idaho. But during his freshman year, he became a heavy drinker and marijuana smoker. He was arrested for DUI. His grade-point average dipped to 1.6. He lost his scholarship. He lived in a dormitory illegally and ran up a $4,000 debt.

"The low point was waking up Christmas morning in 1987 all alone," O'Brien said. "I'd been messing around for months, and I didn't want to go home and answer questions. I decided then to turn my life around."

He got help from his coach, Mike Keller, who had grown tired of fetching O'Brien from bars but gave him another chance.

Johnson's story is similar. He grew up in Missoula, Mont., and formed the West Side Gang with his buddies.

Johnson went from throwing rocks at police cars to joyriding in a pizza truck. By the time he was 14, he was drinking and stealing beer.

"My lifestyle trained me early for the decathlon," he said. "I developed my arm throwing rocks, and I high-jumped and hurdled a lot of fences."

In Corvallis, Ore., Johnson joined the track and football teams, where a religious wide receiver helped him straighten out his life.

Now Johnson and O'Brien are role models with "maybe a future in soap operas," O'Brien joked. "I hope there's a career for whoever finishes second," O'Brien said. "Especially if it's me."

Barnes loses his shot -- CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A federal judge yesterday overturned a court order that would have allowed Randy Barnes, world-record holder in the shot put, to compete in today's U.S. Olympic trials. Barnes' attorney, Anne Shaffer, said she wouldn't seek an emergency appeal.

Barnes, the silver medalist in the 1988 Olympics, is under a two-year suspension imposed Aug. 7, 1990, after he tested positive for steroids.