The Trials of Dan and Dave

Running shoes worn by several people, in the Paris Marathon, image by Josiah Mackenzie (CC BY 2.0)

It started 25 years ago with a ubiquitous ad campaign that turned two track and field athletes into overnight celebrities. Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson seemed destined to compete for the gold, representing the U.S. in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Reebok’s $25MM  “Dan & Dave” campaign invited the nation to choose sides, playing the two decathlon contenders against one another in a series of commercials.

Reebok was determined to compete with Nike for attention in the athletic community and (at first) this seemed like a novel way to go about it. The ad campaign made its debut during the Super Bowl in a series of sequential shorts building up the rivalry.

On Reebok’s behalf, Dan and Dave competed on screen, filming ads and going to talk shows, while also becoming friends behind the scenes.

All eyes were on them as they headed to the qualifying trials in New Orleans  — the top three contenders would head to Barcelona, and at first it looked like both were going to make it. But things took a turn when one of the athletes got tripped up and failed to qualify for the Olympics.

This featured story is the first episode of 30 for 30, an ongoing series of original audio documentaries from ESPN that track the impact of sports on society and culture. The first season of the podcast features five documentaries, the latest of which is a story about a huge casino caper — tune in to learn how a card design flaw helped the world’s most famous poker player and his mysterious accomplice win millions.

Credits

Production

This episode was hosted and produced by Jody Avirgan with reporting by Andrew Mambo and sound design and original scoring by Ryan Ross Smith. The 30 for 30 series is also produced by Julia Lowrie Henderson, Rose Eveleth, Taylor Barfield and Kate McAuliffe.

Comments (9)

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  1. Sarah Williams

    I really like the storytelling on this. I know that Caitlyn Jenner isn’t key to the story, but she was referenced several times, and she was consistently dead named and misgendered. Obviously recordings from the time are going to do this, but it seemed like it would be appropriate for there to be a note at the beginning of the episode, or before or after the first time Jenner was discussed acknowledging her correct gender and name.

    1. Tito

      I don’t see the need. I believe most people know by now that Caitlyn Jenner used to be Bruce Jenner. Yes, she IS Caitlyn Jenner now, but remember this story is about and what takes place over 20 years ago and there was no Caitlyn Jenner back then. Back then there was only Bruce Jenner. Caitlyn Jenner was not on the cereal box – Bruce was. If this story was about Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner, then I could see your point. But it’s not. Bruce Jenner is only a point of reference to the main story. And the reference point is only about Bruce’s athletic ability and about Bruce being an athlete celebrity.

    2. Perry F. Bruns

      I agree that there should have been a note that the person who was once Bruce is now Caitlyn. It’s a tough decision, I think, when discussing a transgender person in a historical context regardless of whether they have had gender confirmation surgery (such as, for instance, the tennis star and ophthalmologist Renée Richards (born Richard Raskind).

      For me, I think the appropriate tack to take here would have been to refer to Jenner as, perhaps, “Caitlyn Jenner, who at the time was still known as Bruce Jenner,” or something similar, on first reference, and then simply “Jenner.” The AP Style Book and Libel Manual recommends the use of last names after first reference anyway, and given Jenner’s unique situation here, this would be especially appropriate.

    3. Aubri

      The misgendering and persistent use of Jenner’s previous name in an episode done in 2017 was unacceptable. It distracted me from an interesting and well written story, and made me progressively more pissed off at the producers who made this decision. Trans people are being shit on enough lately; it’s not super complicated to make some kind of note at the beginning, or use just her last name when relevant. And frankly, she wasn’t a main part of the story so it wouldn’t have been hard to rework those few pieces.

  2. I was 12 years old and just getting into sports when this happened. I remember being so confused but eventually I decided they must be important because Reebok said they were.

    Reebok had the Pump (REMEMBER!? the pump!) at the time so it meant something to be on a Reebok commercial. I was 12.

    I also remember hearing Dave got hurt and I was like: “What are they going to do?”

    The closest thing to this I can compare it to is when Michael Jordan went into retirement and they still tried to sell Air Jordans-The Johnny Kilroy commercials.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEzDrMob8Aw

    Maybe do a show on that?

    You guys are great, I really enjoy all the podcasts.
    Roman is the Neo of the broadcasting world… think about it.
    Watch out for Agent Smith!

  3. JH

    The confusing thing to me in this story was the little aside about the Reebok guys being happy during the trials disaster. It was never explained WHY he was happy, what was so good about it going wrong?

    1. Tito

      It wasn’t the Reebok guy who was happy, it was their main competitor – it was the NIKE guy who was happy.

  4. Fantastic episode. I listened to this on my morning bike ride so I could pay full attention. It was a story about sports and atheletes, but it was a story about big business (i.e. the Olympics, TV, and not just Reebok) and personal struggle and loosing touch with what the struggle is about.

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