SIOUX CITY -- Dave Johnson aims high this year, the 20th anniversary of his bronze medal effort in the Olympics.
Johnson, 48, will join other U.S. Olympic medal-winning decathletes in the 2012 Olympic Games in London for a marketing blitz and reunion. Rafer Johnson (1956 silver, 1960 gold) is expected to attend, as are Bruce Jenner (1976 gold), Bryan Clay (2004 silver, 2008 gold) and Dan O'Brien (1996 gold).
The 2012 Olympics mark the 100th anniversary since the decathlon and pentathlon were introduced to modern competition. The United States had a winner in those initial competitions: Jim Thorpe, one of the most famous athletes of all time.
"It's a huge year for us," said Johnson of his decathlon fraternity. "We'll be at the Olympic Trials, too, which take place in Eugene, Ore."
Johnson serves as athletic director at Corban University in nearby Salem, Ore. His work brought him to Sioux City this week as the Warriors competed in the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship at the Tyson Events Center.
Johnson spent part of his day on Wednesday speaking to children at South Sioux City Middle School. That night, he watched the basketball tournament's opening ceremonies, snapping photos throughout. He returned on Thursday to watch his Warriors battle the Point Park University Pioneers of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Where is his bronze medal?
"It's in my car," said Johnson. "I take it to school presentations and I often pick out a kid who looks the way I probably looked. I end my talk by putting the medal around his neck, telling them what I did to become the best in the world at the decathlon."
Johnson urges young students to listen to their teachers, take their education and their parents seriously. "Kids need to be aware of the adults who want to help them along the way," he said.
It wasn't also so for Dave Johnson, a troubled teen who grew up in Missoula, Mont., and became a sprinter as he literally evaded authority.
"I was a bowler and a baseball player as a kid, but I quit those sports," said Johnson. "I hung around some kids I shouldn't have and we spent time throwing rocks at houses and getting into trouble. I was running from police all the time."
Johnson's family moved to Corvallis, Ore., during his junior year of high school. Johnson soon met the high school football coach, who convinced this newcomer to join the team. Just so happens the football coach headed the track program each spring.
"Praise God I found out as a senior that I had some track talent," Johnson said.
He earned a $500 scholarship to Western Oregon University, trying football and track.
"Without any additional funds, I found out I could not afford Western Oregon," Johnson said. "I went to our local junior college and track really began clicking for me."
His decathlon point totals jumped in his sophomore year, the one spent in the junior college ranks. He gained 1,000 points in the 10-event discipline in a 12-month span. It garnered the attention of coaches at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif.
Johnson headed to Azusa, picked up $500 scholarship aid for books and soon topped 8,000 points in the decathlon, a mark he needed to automatically qualify for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials.
"I had no idea the Olympics were even being held that year pretty close by (in Los Angeles)," said Johnson.
No matter. He finished 11th and didn't make the Olympic team.
The seed was planted. Johnson kept at it, throwing, running and jumping his way to third place in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. He traveled to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics and placed ninth.
A year later, he reached No. 1 in the world. Reebok approached Johnson and O'Brien in 1991, asking them to become pitchmen for a "Dan & Dave" marketing campaign aimed at selling Reebok shoes and equipment. The effort, launched during a Super Bowl commercial, took off, sending Johnson's face and athletic frame into millions of U.S. homes.
The campaign was modified five weeks before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, when O'Brien missed on the pole vault and didn't qualify for the Olympics.
Johnson worked through a foot injury to gain a spot on the team. He couldn't train as he wished, and a doctor advised against competing at the Olympics. Knowing his window on the world stage might be closing, Johnson pressed ahead. He brought home a bronze.
Standing on the medal stand, a wave of satisfaction rushed over the former troubled teen.
"I had finished what I'd started and, with a lot of help, I got through it," he said.
Johnson has since worked in marketing, taught special education, served as a high school teacher and administrator and now toils as Corban's athletic director and an adviser for its track program. He's also a husband and father of four. Yes, the kids enjoy track and field.
Along the way, he has written an autobiography, "Aim High." The book is to be reissued this year. Johnson still reaches out to children, student-athletes, churches and companies as a motivational speaker.
The medal goes along for the ride.
"There have been times when I've put the medal around a kid and then I've forgotten about it," he said. "I'm glad the teachers have yelled at me to come get it back.
"It's a cool tool to show where I've been," he concluded.