Jansen's final effort golden

February 19, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- Where do you begin?

With the journey from the snow of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, to a block of ice cut from a Norwegian glacier?

With death and defeat?

With falls and simple failures?

Or maybe you begin with the end, with Norwegian and American flags waving, with fans standing and screaming, with a security guard carrying a 9-month-old through the crowd, holding her aloft over men who wept and photographers who stood frozen, carrying her to the ice, where the spotlight shined on a champion.

It ended with a waltz between a father and his baby girl.

Dan Jansen got his gold yesterday at the Winter Olympics and then showed the world that his story of heartbreak on ice had come to a triumphant close.

He shared a victory lap with his daughter, Jane, carrying her in his right arm, a bouquet of tulips in his left hand, a gold medal draped around his neck.

"Finally," he said. "The fact is, it's over. The happy ending is indescribable."

There may never have been an Olympic moment like this.

One man's life was played out in his final Olympic race to redemption. The stoic 28-year-old from Greenfield, Wis., slipped, but he never surrendered. He won the 1,000 meters with a world-record time of 1 minute, 12.43 seconds.

"The saga ended," said Jansen's wife, Robin. "We wanted it to end with the new Jane in our lives. That was our intention."

On a victory platform of glacier ice, Jansen cried, a puddle of a tear forming in his right eye. When the national anthem ended, he paused and looked skyward, waving his hand in a salute "to Jane," his sister who died on the eve of his 1988 Olympic races in Calgary, Alberta.

"Things came back to me," he said. "Everything. The training. The competition. The Olympics."

The Olympics had been the curse of his career. In Sarajevo in 1984, he was just an 18-year-old kid-star on the rise, a fourth-place finisher in a 500-meter race that was delayed four hours by snow.

Little could he have envisioned that it would take him 10 years to climb atop an Olympic podium, falling twice in Calgary after his sister's death, hesitating on a backstretch in Albertville, France, and Monday slipping and failing to win his signature event in Norway, the 500 meters.

As he approached the start line for the eighth and final time at the Olympics, a good chunk of Norway came to a standstill. Here, where speed skating is a religion, Jansen is a hero.

"After what happened in the 500, I had a feeling that the sport and the world were not fair," said Norwegian skater Adne Sondral.

"When I saw him before the race, I said, 'Good luck,' and 'Hope you win.' And I meant it," Sondral said.

Jansen, starting in the outside lane, was paired with Japan's Junichi Inoue.

He had a look of serenity on his face. The 1,000 is not his specialty, but he has worked in the past year to master the race.

"I came in telling myself, 'It's most likely your last Olympic race ever,' " Jansen said. "If you don't enjoy it, drink it in, you won't remember it."

Jansen's coach, Peter Mueller, the 1976 Olympic champ at the same distance, prepared him with brisk workouts and encouragement.

"It was like this was supposed to happen," Mueller said. "The man upstairs was looking after him."

So was Jansen's family. His mother, Gerry, a retired nurse; father Harry, a retired policeman; wife, Robin; daughter, Jane; and assorted brothers, sisters, cousins and nieces and nephews were in the stands, 50 meters from the finish.

Robin and Jane wore matching American flag tattoos on their faces.

The family carried a giant poster, "DJ: Blow the Volcano." It was the same message that Jansen's favorite musician, Jimmy Buffett, had sent him a day earlier.

On the ice, Jansen skated with his familiar passion and power. His start was quick and his stride sure as the crowd of 10,600 roared.

But 600 meters into the journey, he slipped on a corner, a flash of disaster that dredged up all those memories from Calgary.

This time, he did not fall.

"I pulled back," he said. "And I lowered my body."

He balanced himself with his left hand, gently touching the ice, and raced on, drawing closer and closer to the finish, the noise from the crowd building louder still.

And in the final 200, nearing 40 mph, his arms flailing, legs pumping, face caught in a grimace of rage, he went for a record and a gold.

"I thought it was beautiful," Mueller said. "I said to myself, 'Just stay on your feet, baby.' "

He crossed the finish. He searched for the time. The record flashed on the scoreboard.

Then came the images:

* Jansen, a smile breaking across his face, raising his arms in triumph.

"I got to tell you the truth: I didn't think this would happen," he said.

* Robin Jansen, crying so hard and so uncontrollably that she nearly passed out. Then reaching her husband and shouting, "I love you! I love you! I love you!"

"I was so elated, my hands went to the heavens," she said. "I said, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you. He finally got what he deserved.' Then I didn't feel so good."

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