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WINTER OLYMPICS : Jansen Falls While Skating on Medal Pace

February 19, 1988|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — For a speed skater to fall on a straightaway is like a one-car accident on a sunny day on a big, wide street with no one else in sight.

It shouldn't happen, but it sometimes does. On a cool, windy Thursday night in Canada, American Dan Jansen had another wreck.

He fell in a heap in the men's 1,000-meter race, only 200 meters from the finish line and only four days after his skates slid out from beneath him and he fell in Sunday's 500-meter race.

That was the day his sister died.

There is no law that says there should be a limit on bad luck because if there were, Jansen has already used up his share.

Thursday night, he probably should have had a medal, but all he got instead was more heartbreak.

There were only two turns to go for Jansen, then one more long straightaway to the finish line. He was skating in the outside lane on the back straightaway and then he made a mistake.

Jansen put his right skate down on the ice, but most of his weight was on the outside edge. He lost his balance, fell to the outside, dropped to his knees and slid into the pads at the side of the track.

U.S. captain Erik Henriksen, who was watching the race nearby, banged his head on a metal rail in disbelief.

"I didn't want to look," he said. "It was shocking. It was just the last thing I thought was going to happen."

Two races, two falls, no medals, no relief. Jansen's Olympic experience is not something he will remember with very much joy.

After he fell this second time, after he finally stopped sliding, Jansen stayed in a sitting position on the ice for a few seconds. He was too stunned to move.

"I'm really not sure what I was thinking," he said. "I couldn't believe it, I guess."

No one could. Jansen was skating at a medal pace until he fell. Sunday's fall and the death of his 27-year-old sister, Jane, from leukemia, was pushed out of his mind.

His spirits had improved and so had his speed. Jansen's times after 200 meters and 600 meters were the third best among the 36 skaters, which meant that if he hadn't fallen, the bronze medal was certainly in sight.

Jansen said he was thinking about it.

"I might have . . . I should have won a medal," he said. "I trained so hard for so many years, and I didn't even finish a race here. But what's happened the last week has just put things in perspective. I don't feel as bad."

Losing a race is one thing.

But how can that be compared to losing a sister?

Said Henriksen: "I don't know what it feels like to lose a brother or sister and I don't want to know. "He's already found out."

So the U.S. team discovered how not to win a medal. Soviet skater Nikolai Guliaev won the gold medal with an Olympic record time of 1:13.03. Jens-Uwe Mey of East Germany won the silver medal and another Soviet, Igor Zhelezovsky, took the bronze.

Zhelezovsky edged U.S. skater Eric Flaim, who finished fourth, only 34/100ths of a second behind. Flaim had also finished fourth in the 5,000 meters.

Flaim lost his balance for a split second in his second lap and touched the ice with his hand to steady himself, a slip that probably cost him a medal.

"I somehow snagged my skin (uniform) on my blade," Flaim said.

The other U.S. skaters didn't fall or slip but finished well out of contention. Tom Cushman was 17th, and Nick Thometz was 18th.

"Life goes on," Thometz said. "I'll have to deal with it."

Jansen is through dealing with skating for a while. All he wanted to do was to get away. He flew home to West Allis, Wis., late Thursday night. There will be a wake for his sister today. The funeral services are Saturday.

The folks back home had sent Jansen a huge banner wishing him good luck, but he didn't have any. Jansen still fell. He couldn't remember the last time that happened to him.

"I don't know if I've ever done it in a race," he said.

"But it happens to everybody sometimes, just not very often in a race. It just happens."

U.S. Coach Mike Crowe, who comforted Jansen on the track, searched his memory for something with which to compare a fall on a straightaway. He came up empty.

"It's not something I ever recall him doing," Crowe said.

In the realm of speed skaters, what Jansen did is called "catching an edge." In the last week, Jansen has been living on the edge. And twice, he fell.

There are no more races for Jansen for now. His Olympics are over. Maybe Jansen will race again in the Olympics, but he will be 27 years old in 1992 and he isn't sure. Now, he has to attend to some family business.

Jansen was asked whether he had been hurt by the fall.

"I bruised my hip a little bit," he answered.

It didn't matter to him, because in a quiet voice, Dan Jansen then said something else.

"I've got nothing to be healthy for anyway."

Speed Skating Notes

Erik Henriksen, captain of the U.S. speed skating team, said he hasn't made up his mind whether he would file a $1-million lawsuit against the national speed skating federation. Henriksen was upset because he was not selected to race the 1,000 meters Thursday night and teammate Tom Cushman was. "I don't know, I just don't know what I'm going to do," Henriksen said. "There was one person who wasn't qualified to skate the 1,000. I could only think that I could have done better (than Cushman), but we're never going to know."

Cushman, who finished 17th, was pleased with his race. "I feel like I showed I deserved a spot on the 1,000 meters," he said.

Henriksen appeared at the press conference for the American 1,000-meter skaters after the race, but he sat at the opposite end of the table from Cushman.

"He got waxed," Henriksen said of his teammate.

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