Print and Go Back ESPN Classic [Print without images]

Thursday, January 24, 2002
Jansen skated 1988 Olympics for sister Jane

By Lisette Hilton
Special to

Signature Race

Feb. 14, 1988 - It was the worst day in Dan Jansen's life. In the morning, he spoke to his older sister Jane, who was dying of leukemia back home in West Allis, Wis. A few hours later, the speed skater learned of her death. He spent the afternoon in a quiet room at the Olympic athlete's village in Calgary speaking on the phone to family members.

He decided to compete in the 500 meters, saying "that's what Jane would've wanted." He wanted to win for Jane. But emotionally spent and physically tense, Jensen, one of the favorites, false-started at the line, which he rarely did. This confused him.

When he sprinted from the gun, he caught his blade on the first turn and fell, spinning across the lanes and knocking down the skater paired with him.

"As soon as he fell, my heart sank," said teammate Eric Hendriksen. "I'm not used to seeing so many bad things happen in a short period of time."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Jansen grew up a block away from a speed-skating oval that was the site of the North American Speed Skating Championships.

  • Jansen was a good all-around athlete, playing high school football and baseball.

  • He volunteered to be a bone marrow donor for Jane months before the 1988 Olympics. However, his sister Joanne's bone marrow was a better match.

  • Jansen won three of the four races and the overall title at the 1988 world sprint championships held in his hometown of West Allis, Wis. He was the first American to win the world title since 1981.

  • Watching her son in the 1988 Olympics, Gerry Jansen sensed that something bad was about to happen. After prodding him on, she thought, "Oh, my son, what have I asked you to do?"

  • Jansen met his first wife, Robin Wicker, in August 1988. They married in April 1990 and had two daughters before they divorced.

  • Robin was so excited when Jansen won the gold in 1994 that she hyperventilated and needed medical attention.

  • Among the thousands of letters of condolence he received after the death of his sister was one from Mark Arrowood, who had won a gold medal at the Special Olympics. Arrowhead enclosed the medal in his letter to Jansen.

  • The U.S. speed-skating team hired Peter Mueller after the 1991 season. Mueller had won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,000 meters in 1976 and had coached the German Olympic team.

  • Jansen had a painfully stiff neck just before the 1992 Olympics but was relieved of his pain in time for the races.

  • Jansen's father thought his son would be haunted by the 1988 Olympics while competing in France in 1992. "He may not think of it until he's on the [starting] line," Harry said, "but at some point, he's going to stand there and say: 'Here I am, and the last time I was here my sister died and I fell down.'"

  • The conditions in Albertville were soft and slow due to warm rain falling earlier in the day. Those conditions favor small, quick-footed skaters -- not large, powerful gliders like Jansen.

  • Sports psychologist Jim Loehr persuaded Jansen to concentrate less on the 500 and more on the 1,000 meters while training for the 1994 Olympics.

  • Kellogg's placed Jansen's picture on more than 10 million boxes of Corn Flakes after he won Olympic gold.