When O'Brien, 45, won the gold medal for the decathlon at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, he was the first American winner in the sport since 1976. O'Brien, who will be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in July, grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore., and has worked as a color commentator and guest analyst for ESPN, CBS and NBC. Currently he is working with the U.S. Olympic Committee as part of its Olympic Ambassador Program, mentoring athletes who are on their way to England this summer. O'Brien, whose memoir Clearing Hurdles was released Friday, lives with his wife, Leilani, in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is entering his seventh year as an assistant coach at Arizona State University. We caught up with O'Brien by phone in Anaheim, Calif., where he was going to spend the day with some of this summer's Olympic volleyball players. "As a facilitator for the Ambassador program I help the athletes go through training to understand what life will be like over there. It has to do with media and social media training, living in the Olympic Village and different scenarios they will run into.''
What's on your nightstand?
I read science fiction and fantasy. Right now I'm reading George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five. He paints a wonderful picture.
Do you like it as much as his earlier books?
This series has gotten better as it has gone along.
Do you remember an author who kick-started you into reading when you were growing up?
I was not good in school. I especially had a hard time learning how to read. I can honestly say I didn't finish a book until I got into high school. The first book I made it through from start to finish was The Sword of Shannara.
How old were you when you read it?
I was a junior in high school. I went on to read the others in the trilogy and I've continued reading from there. I like to tell kids that are having trouble with reading to get started with something that interests them and also find something that is easy for them to read. Keep plugging through, and there will come a day when you start experiencing the feeling of being sad and depressed when you know the end of the book is near. That's how I felt recently with Hunger Games.
Are you going to write another book?
I'm already planning on it. I've got a couple projects I'm working on right now that have to do with sports psychology for kids. I want to help kids with the way they approach sports at a young age and help give them the tools to approach the game.
When you wrote Clearing Hurdles, did you realize you like memoirs as a genre?
Actually, Andre Agassi's book, Open, was a big inspiration. It helped to read about somebody else's life while I was starting to get into my book.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, can be reached at [email protected]