CALGARY, Canada — While two East German women and a Soviet man were busy setting world records Saturday in the World Cup, America's best men speed skaters were having trouble staying on their skates.
Dan Jansen was disqualified in the 500-meter race when he slipped on the second turn in the inside lane at the Olympic Oval track and interfered with Jan Ykema of the Netherlands.
"I just didn't grip the ice," Jansen said. "When you've got that much speed going and you take it into a turn that small, it's not easy."
If that wasn't bad enough, American Nick Thometz, the world record-holder in the 500-meter event, finished seventh, far behind South Korea's 23-year-old Ki-Tae Bae, who won the race for the second straight day.
Bae said his two victories have made him the favorite for the 500-meter Olympic gold medal. "This will be a great help for the Olympics," Bae said through an interpreter. "I now have great confidence."
The 500-meter sprint hasn't been very kind to the Americans. In his speciality, Thometz has finished eighth and seventh. Jansen has a 10th-place and a disqualification in his two tries over 500 meters.
Both Jansen and Thometz are recovering from upper respiratory infections, but neither blamed his health for his performance.
Until the last pairing in the last race of the men's 1,500 meters, the Soviet skaters had been equally as disappointing as the Americans. But Igor Zhelezovsky quickly reversed that trend by winning with a world-record time of 1:52.50.
Zhelezovsky took two-tenths of a second off the mark of Nikolai Guliaev, who finished third behind teammate Zhelezovsky and Canadian Gaetan Boucher.
The best finish for an American in the 1,500 was by Dave Silk, who placed seventh. Thometz finished 15th, almost four seconds behind Zhelezovsky. Jansen, regarded as the top American in the 1,500-meter event, was 23rd.
Zhelezovsky, who is a member of the Red Army sports team, said the Soviets changed the curvature of their skates and that made the difference.
"It was really the significant change," sprint coach Boris Vasilkovski said through an interpreter.
The Soviet women chose not to send a team here, which left the field wide open for East German skaters Karin Kania and Gabi Zange, who both set world records.
The first skater in the first event was Kania, who quickly posted the day's first world record. Her 1,000-meter time of 1:18.11 bettered her 22-month-old world mark by more than 7-10ths of a second.
American Bonnie Blair, who will challenge Kania for the 1,000-meter gold medal in the Olympics, finished second to Kania, but Blair's 1:19.56 was a personal best.
"I just don't think she's really that unbeatable," Blair said of Kania in the 1,000 meters. "I hope that someday I'll be able to beat her."
Blair's time was 1:45 slower than Kania.
"Hopefully, I can narrow that margin by February," Blair said.
Another East German, 28-year-old Christa Rothenburger, finished third only .13 behind Blair.
In the four races she has skated at the World Cup, Kania has won two, set a world record, finished second and third.
Zange, skating in the second pair, broke the 3,000-meter record time of 4:16:76 held by Yvonne van Gennip of the Netherlands. Kania was second in 4:17.76.
Zange's victory was a comeback for her. In 1981, Zange set the 3,000-meter world record at 4:21.17.
"After that, it didn't go so good," she said through an interpreter. "But once I got here and saw the fast ice, I had set my mind on reclaiming the title."
After Zange and Kania, teammate Andrea Ehrig took third place, which meant a sweep by the East German team. Ehrig, who was asked whether the East Germans could also sweep the event at the Olympics, answered in English.
"I hope so," she said.