Jansen focuses on goal ahead, not agony of his Olympic past

February 15, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- Today, after a death, two falls, two defeats and four years, Dan Jansen returns to the Winter Olympics.

He will go to the starting line in the men's 500-meter speed skating final. He will face craggy, snow-capped Alpine peaks. He will confront the past, while racing against the clock and a German friend named Uwe-Jens Mey.

"I prefer to skate outdoors," he said. "I feel the ice. I breathe the air. I see the mountains."

He wants it to be so simple this time. Not like Calgary in 1988. Not like the day his sister, Jane Beres, died of leukemia and left behind a husband and three children.

He no longer talks of the 1988 Winter Games, yet the past returns on videotape, comes back in every interview he gives and each public appearance he makes.

You look at Jansen, now 27, and married, and you see those nightmarish evenings in Calgary.

The wobbly look during the warm-up for the 500 meters. The tentative start. The fall that left a skater, and a country, heartbroken.

He wept, and got up.

And then, four nights later, in the 1,000, he fell again.

He has prepared for more than one year to face this moment, this start, again. He has created an entourage to deal with the stresses and strains of a pre-Olympic campaign. His father, Harry, shields him from reporters. Jim Loehr, a sports psychologist, counsels him.

In April 1991, Loehr and Jansen began working by phone and FAX. They discussed daily schedules. Loehr monitored 25 different factors in Jansen's life, everything from the number of meals eaten to the motivations that tug at skater and champion.

There is a question: Can Jansen block out the falls?

The skater says, "It won't happen again."

The psychologist, who has probed the pain and directed the dreams of teen-aged tennis players nurtured at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, agrees.

"There is obviously that memory," Loehr said. "The real issue is that the conflict is gone. If he falls, it will be for another reason. Dan is totally comfortable with the whole situation. Now, it is past."

But why did Jansen fall? Speed skating is routine and rhythm as the competitors cut fine edges and seek the truest, straightest line to the finish.

In Calgary, though, Jansen was grieving. He was unsure if he should race, deciding only to make his starts after talking with a brother and his mother, Gerry.

"It is a good example of how powerful the mind and body are connected," Loehr said. "He asked me, 'Why did I fall? What could have caused it?' He said if he understood why he fell, maybe he wouldn't be so concerned about falling again. He had to visualize what it would be like to finish the race. So he starts to experience this incredible joy. And suddenly, he's shocked and it stops. And he doesn't like the feeling. This is where his two worlds collide."

Grief and tragedy, according to Loehr, were the counterpoints of Calgary.

"He didn't want to have that joyous moment, because it didn't fit," Loehr said.

Now, in every interview, Jansen talks only of joy, only of having fun in a season leading up to the most important races of his career.

On the ice, he is an imposing figure. He is 6 feet 1, 190 pounds. Other skaters churn their arms, and appear to walk a tightrope around the tight turns. Jansen seems to glide effortlessly.

He is in the midst of a great season. He and Mey have traded the world record back-and-forth as if they were exchanging Olympic pins.

For now, the record of 36.41 seconds is Jansen's, swiped outdoors last month in Davos, Switzerland.

Jansen and Mey have met seven times this season. Mey has won four. Jansen two. One ended in a tie, an unheard-of finish in a sport measured by hundredths of a second.

"Uwe and I have kind of been going back and forth all season," Jansen said. "He won, I won. He broke the world record. I broke the world record. I don't look at it as a two-man race and I don't think Uwe does."

But it is.

"I'd like to see them tie," U.S. coach Peter Mueller said. "They both deserve it. I think Dan deserves it more."

Normally, Mueller is a man of many words, who encourages and goads his skaters. Will he say anything special to Jansen today?

The question makes Mueller cringe.

"Don Shula doesn't tell Dan Marino how to throw the football," Mueller said.

There is really nothing more anyone can say to Jansen. He will come to this start, paired against Sergei Klevtchenia of the Unified Team. Mey will be skating against Junichi Inoue of Japan.

But in reality, Jansen and Mey will be skating against each other and the clock.

"He probably has got the best start in the first 20-30 meters," Jansen said. "But I can catch up to him in the first lap."

And maybe today he can skate away from the past, turning past defeats into a victory, and sorrow into joy.

"I hope Mey does his best," Jansen said. "If his best is better than my best, well . . ."

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