Family shares loss as Jansen touches down shy of goal line LILLEHAMMER '94

U.S HOPES GO SLIP-SLIDING AWAY

February 15, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- She saw the ice chips fly, saw her husband touch down with his hand, saw another gold medal slip away on a tight turn.

Robin Jansen, dressed in black, could take no more. The crowd was still screaming, but she pivoted away even before her husband, Dan, crossed the finish line. She hugged her brother-in-law Jim. And then, she placed her baby into her mother's lap and headed for the exit.

"Why God? Why again?" she said. "God cannot be that cruel."

Yesterday, six years to the day his sister died and he fell in grief, Dan Jansen, a haunted man, lost again.

His family was here, of course, to see him, to cheer him, and finally, to console him after an eighth-place finish in the men's 500-meter speed skating final at the Winter Olympics.

The fastest man on skates could not out-sprint the past.

"I'm not a quitter," Dan Jansen said. "I don't give up."

He talked while wandering through clumps of reporters under the stands of the speed skating hall, a Carolina Panthers hat on his head and a look of disbelief on his face.

"Right now, I feel worse for my mom and dad than I do for myself," he said. "I went out and skated and they're the ones who have to watch. I really wanted to win for them."

Upstairs, Robin Jansen talked of her husband while cradling their 8 1/2 -month-old daughter, Jane.

"I married the most wonderful man in the world, whether he has blades on his feet or not," she said. "I just love him."

All along, this has been a story of family.

The Jansens, tough and stoic Midwesterners from West Allis, Wis. They sent out their youngest son Dan to conquer the speed skating world and he has won nearly every honor in the sport, shattering records and gathering titles.

L But it's the Olympic medal that eludes him and torments him.

It was on Valentine's Day in 1988 in Calgary, Alberta, when Dan Jansen became the heartbreak kid of Olympic skating. Hours before racing in the 500, his sister, Jane Jansen Beres, died of leukemia. He raced in her honor, and fell. And two days later, he raced again in the 1,000, and fell strides from the finish and a sure medal.

Two years ago in Albertville, France, he didn't fall, but he didn't win, either.

So he came to Norway to close the unfinished circle of his career.

And his family came with him.

There were 19 Jansens here in all. The mother, Gerry, a retired nurse; the father, Harry, a retired policeman; assorted brothers, sisters, cousins and children.

"I'm so used to this in Olympic years," Robin Jansen said. "I was relieved when we got here, because I knew it would be over. I want to get on with our normal lives and be away from this ice."

They were nervous before the race. Gerry Jansen clasped her hands in prayer. Harry Jansen stared intently at his son. And Robin Jansen held her daughter up, letting her see her daddy perform on the ice.

The crowd roared as Dan Jansen streaked around the ice, a wall of sound following his every move. But when he reached the far turn, and took a tiny misstep with his left foot, the crowd groaned, and Dan Jansen's pursuit of the 500 was done.

He finished the race in 36.68 seconds, raising his arms, a smile filled with irony and confusion crossing his face.

"I'm sure he has an explanation for it," Robin Jansen said.

The explanation was the ice. Too hard.

"It was not a place I would normally slip," he said. "But my skates just slid out."

Gerry Jansen also tried to find an explanation for her son's Olympic pain.

When she saw her son touch down with his hand to right himself, she said, "at least he didn't fall."

"He has always said that this is not the end of the world," she said. "Sure, he'd like to have that medal to show everyone in the world that he is the best."

On this day, though, the best skater was a Russian named Aleksandr Golubev, who finished in 36.33 seconds. Russia's Sergei Klevchenya took the silver and Japan's Manabu Horii took the bronze.

"Dan Jansen is the fastest sprinter on earth," Klevchenya said. "Yes, I really feel sorry for him."

Gerry Jansen said no one should pity her son.

"I don't know what it is about the Olympics," she said, and for a moment, her voice wavered.

"He'll go on," she said. "He has done strong things in his life. He has a long life to go. My husband has always told him that there is more to life than skating. You come out stronger than when you went in."

Robin Jansen said she would like to take her husband home, now, "get the first flight out and blow off the 1,000 meters."

But that won't happen, of course. Dan Jansen will race again in Friday's 1,000, perhaps for the final time in his Olympic career.

His family will be there, too. The daughter named after his sister, the wife who wishes this would all end, the brothers and sisters and cousins and children, and their parents, too.

All of them, cheering for a miracle.

"He's still the greatest," Harry Jansen said. "And he's still my hero."

JANSEN: THE AGONY OF DEFEAT

1984 Olympics: At age 18, he finished fourth by .16 at the Sarajevo Games, but he shrugged it off because there would be other Games.

1988 Olympics: He was the gold-medal favorite at Calgary, but his sister Jane died of leukemia the morning he was to skate the 500. His concentration shattered, Jansen lost his footing and fell. He fell again in the 1,000.

1992 Olympics: He was supposed to win at the Albertville Games, too, but the outdoor ice came up soft and heavy and Jansen placed fourth in the 500 and 26th in the 1,000.

Yesterday: Six years to the day after his sister's death and his Calgary fall in the 500, Jansen slipped on the home turn, brushing his hand against the ice, and finished eighth.

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