Olympic Stories

Dan Jansen From Tragedy Comes a Championship

Dan Jansen  From Tragedy Comes a Championship

Very rarely in history do we have a chance to witness a story of true redemption at the Olympic level. The reason for this may be rather simple. An athlete can only fail so many times before they fall out of contention on a world stage, thus not earning a spot to compete in future Games.

This is not the case with Dan Jansen, however. Although he had many literal slip-ups in Olympic Games, he was always a champion on the world stage who easily earned his spot back to the biggest stage come winter. With so much tragedy marring his storied career, Jansen finally broke through and claimed Olympic Gold when the rest of the world had given up hope.

Dan Jansen

Daniel Erwin Jansen was born in West Allis, Wisconsin on June 17, 1965 and is a retired speedskater. Jansen was from a large family, the youngest of nine children, and started to skate after being inspired by his sister Jane Jansen, a formidable skater in her own right. At only 16, Dan would set a world record in the 500 meter on the junior circuit, but would fall short at the Olympic Games.

Though Jansen is a Hall of Fame skater, his Olympic career doesn't reflect his achievements in the sport as a whole. He only has one Olympic Gold Medal, but it was earned in true heroic fashion amidst a slew of personal turmoil and preceding failures.

Dan Jansen's Near Misses and Heartwarming Win

Jansen's Olympic career started out on a high note. Entering the 1988 Games in Calgary, Dan was the heavy favorite to win the 500 and 1,000m races, holding the title of world sprint champion. America's hopes were tied up in Jansen, and he himself felt that the races were his to lose. However, on the day of the 500m, Jansen received word that his sister, Jane, had died from leukemia. Although his sister's illness had been ongoing, the loss was still devastating and shook Dan to his core. With only a short stretch to go in the race, Jansen slipped and slid off the track, thus being eliminated from the race. This would mark the first of many Olympic tragedies in Jansen's career.

During the very same Olympic Games, Jansen suffered a very similar slip during the 1,000m race and was eliminated. Undeterred, Jansen rose to prominence again outside of the Olympics, dominating the field on the national and international levels. This brought about the 1992 Games in Albertville, where Jansen entered the Games as the World Cup Champion in the 500m, and once again the odds-on favorite for Olympic Gold. However, Jansen had another slip-up in the 500m and finished in 4th place, ultimately finishing in 26th place in the 1,000m a few days later.

When the 1994 Games popped up in Norway, Jansen was no longer a favorite. By this time, most expected that, be it tragedy or mental fatigue, Jansen simply could not handle the pressure of the large stage. Again, Dan entered the Games as World Cup Champion, even breaking records in the 500m. But despite his victories elsewhere, the Olympic stage seemed too large for Jansen to handle. He wasn't the center of the story anymore; he was just another guy who had qualified but probably wouldn't win a medal.

Critics of Jansen's felt vindicated when, 300m into the 500m race, Jansen would slip, drag his hand over the ice, and lose pace. This was enough to send him to an 8th place finish. This left Jansen with one race to run, no Olympic hardware to his name, and an entire legacy hanging in the balance.

Jansen entered the 1,000m race with two caveats. One, he let the entire world know that this was being done in memory of his sister. Two, he made it known that the 1,000m was not his forte and he himself did not expect to do well. And 800m into the race, Jansen slipped yet again, and his entire Olympic career seemed for naught. But just as quickly as he slipped up, he pulled himself together and started thrashing at amazing speeds. Not only did Jansen race past the finish line for his first ever Olympic Gold Medal, but he broke the world record in the process, with a time of 1:12.43. He promptly raced over to his daughter, named Jane after his sister, and ran a victory lap with her in his arms.

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