ALBERTVILLE, FRANCE HXB — ALBERTVILLE, France -- He skated slowly around the practice lane as his name dropped lower and lower on the scoreboard, his body language giving away his unhappiness. His shoulders were slumped. His chin was all but in his chest. He was a living, skating depression.
Fourth place. No medal. This was not the way it was supposed to work out. Not at all. Someone put the wrong paragraphs at the end of the rags-to-riches script. Dan Jansen's return to the Olympics was supposed to be a powerful moment, poignant, perhaps even tearful.
Instead, he just skated a lousy race in the rain.
His great and long-standing rival, Germany's Uwe-Jens Mey, wound up winning the gold medal in the 500 meters by four-hundredths of a second. Two Japanese skaters -- Toshiyuki Kuriowa and Junichi Inoue -- won the silver and bronze.
"More than anything, I guess I'm surprised," Jansen said. "I felt good beforehand. I wasn't nervous at all. I had fun in the warm-up. But I knew as soon as I saw the time that it wasn't a good day at all."
He skated knowing that his race was one of the most anticipated moments of the Games back home. It was the final chapter of his comeback from his celebrated twin falls in Calgary four years ago.
He was thought to be at least a sure silver medalist. He and Mey had been the best in the world in the 500 all winter. No skater had finished ahead of them in any World Cup race.
"His nerves probably didn't hold out because he certainly should have finished higher than fourth," said Mey, with whom Jansen is close. "I asked him what happened, and he said he didn't really know. I feel bad for him, but things often don't work out the way you think in the Olympics."
Skating in the second of 19 pairs on a cool, damp afternoon, Jansen finished in 37.46 seconds -- more than a second off his world-record time, which he set last month.
His first 100 meters was the third-fastest of the 38 skaters, but he seemed to hesitate for just a fraction of a second as he headed into the back turn, which was where he fell in Calgary.
Peter Mueller, the American speed skating coach, confirmed that Jansen seemed to slow down for a moment on the turn, as if to make sure he didn't fall.
"I'd say Peter probably was right about that," Jansen said. "If it happened anywhere, it was in the first half of the last turn."
Inoue beat him by two-tenths of a second in the next pair, and then Mey beat them both in the pair immediately after that. One pair later, Kuriowa knocked Jansen out of a medal.
While all this happened, Jansen skated slowly around and around the practice lane, his head down. One of the best speed skaters in the world for the last four years, he still does not have an Olympic medal.
Jansen said the Japanese skaters benefited from the poor weather, which made the ice softer.
"I'm a big person and I skate with power and dig into the ice, and today it was harder to do that and go fast," he said. "The Japanese are smaller and glide over the ice more. So it was more conducive to them. But they've been coming on for a long time. There are no excuses for me. I didn't skate well, and the others did."
It's not as if Mey's victory was a fluke. He is a three-time winner of the 500 meters World Cup championship. Jansen may hold the world record, but Mey is widely recognized as the best.
Jansen said he was more surprised than disappointed, and in fact was "relieved in a way" that the race finally was over. Since 1988, he has had to re-live the unhappy events hundreds of times in interviews.
"I can't say I was disappointed because all along I said I'd be satisfied if I prepared 100 percent and did my best," he said, "and I did that, so if I'm disappointed then I've been lying to myself all along. Mostly I'm just surprised. I thought I'd get a gold or silver medal."
He added: "I wasn't thinking about falling. I've only fallen I think once in competition since Calgary."
His failure to win a medal put a damper on the loud American contingent that had cheered Bonnie Blair to two gold medals earlier in the week. Back again with many of the same flags and signs, they sat quietly through the rest of the race after Jansen was knocked out of a medal. They, like everyone else, appeared stunned.
Jansen gets another chance, though, in the 1,000 meters Tuesday. The 500 is his strongest race, but he will skate with less pressure in the 1,000.
"It's hard for me to think about the 1,000 right now," he said, "but I'll start tomorrow. Hopefully, things will turn out better."