Jansen Slips in 500, Lands in 8th
By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 1994; Page A1
This wasn't a repeat of the 1988 Calgary Games, where Jansen thudded to the ice twice, dragged down by the weight of his sorrow over his sister's death just hours before his first race. And this wasn't a repeat of the 1992 Albertville Games, where Jansen slogged to a fourth-place finish as though he were wearing skis, not skates. This was nothing that drastic. Just three fingertips on the ice. The net effect was disastrous just the same.
Jansen was two strides into the last turn of today's Olympic 500-meter race about 110 meters from the finish line and long-delayed glory when his slip-up happened. By then, he'd already negotiated the track's first turn the haunted one where he'd fallen in the 500 in Calgary. By then he'd already blazed down the backstretch too the part of the track where he'd spun out in the 1,000-meter race in Calgary. Now all that seemed left was for Jansen to slingshot out of the final curve and power down the homestretch, his arms slashing, his teeth bared, and the capacity crowd of 11,000 still waving flags and still clanging cowbells to help him home.
Instead Jansen's left skate pivoted and nearly clipped his right blade. Then those three fingertips touched down, costing him two- or three-tenths of a second a lifetime in a sprint like this.
Perhaps the strangest thing was "It's not a place that I've ever slipped before," Jansen said, his eyes blank, his face shellshocked. "I don't know what to tell you. I think I would have won the race by quite a bit if I hadn't slipped. I was so confident. I felt I would skate a world record."
"There's not really any more chances for me," said Jansen, who already holds the world record in this event. "I'll have to live my life without an Olympic 500-meter gold medal."
It could be the last chance as well for U.S. luger Duncan Kennedy, 26, who started the second day of the competition in fourth place and was on a near-record pace in his first run today until he crashed spectacularly on the 14th turn of the 16-turn course and did not finish.
Kennedy, seeking to win the United States's first medal in luge, was battered in an attack by German skinheads in October in Oberhof, Germany, after he defended black teammate Robert Pipkins. He said today he will carry on with luging as long as his ailing back permits.
Jansen is 28, most likely too old to maintain his sprinter's speed until the 1998 Games. That's why the abbreviated two-year cycle between these Lillehammer Games and the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville was a boon for older sprinters like him. Jansen hadn't won a medal in his three previous Olympics trips, but the unprecedented two-year turnaround looked like a reprieve. Earlier this week, when U.S. coach Peter Mueller called Jansen the best sprinter of all time, it wasn't a reach.
In the wait for today's race, the Olympic Hall public address announcer had rattled off facts for the crowd, and nearly every one of them seemed to include Jansen's name. He had the best record in the 500 this year, the most 500 world championships among active skaters, the track record here in Hamar's so-called Viking Ship, a state-of-the-art indoor track. He is the only speed skater to crack the 36-second barrier in the 500 (his world record is 35.76).
Today, skating in the second pairing, Jansen had the advantage of clean ice too. But his time of 36.68 seconds was so sub-standard his name had tumbled off the leaderboard by the fifth pairing. His free fall finally stalled at eighth place, far behind Aleksandr Golubev (36.33) of Russia, silver medalist Sergey Klevchenya (36.39) of Russia and bronze medalist Manabu Horii of Japan.
But Jansen didn't stick around to see either Russian skate. Immediately after his race he yanked off his speed skating suit hood and put his hands on his head in disbelief. He bent at the waist, hands on knees, as though he'd just been sucker punched. By then he had glided near the far end of the track where skaters dress, and he grabbed his warmups, forsook the usual warm-down laps, and clattered off the ice, passing the spot where he fell, shooting down some steps, then duckwalking into the competitors' locker room, where he could be alone.
Mueller went to him eventually but "we didn't say much," Mueller said. Later, U.S. short-track speed skater Andy Gabel gave Jansen a hug but Gabel admitted, "I really didn't say anything either. A lot can be said without really saying anything. He's been in 300 races and six of them haven't been good."
Unfortunately for Jansen, the six bad races have all seemed to come at the Olympic Games. And fairly or not, the keyhole view of his life that the Games have provided is all America knows of him. Of the races he has finished at the Olympics, he has been fourth twice, each time by hundredths of a second. He's fallen twice and both of them have been, in the aftermath, as inexplicable to him as today's slip.
Still, he and Mueller obligingly tried their best to guess today what went wrong. They talked about the ice being "hard," which is just as bad as soft ice for a power skater like Jansen, because he depends on good grip. They pointed out that another strong skater in today's race, a skater who stylistically mirrors Jansen, fell at about the same point in the turn.
But Jansen's foible was different. The crowd gasped, knowing Jansen is this event's Colossus and this was to be his much-delayed coronation.
Though Jansen has a chance to medal in his other race here the 1,000 on Friday this 500 is speed skating's plum, this was for posterity, this was the event he was the prohibitive favorite to win. As he glided through the first three quarters of the race, it seemed Jansen would; he'd sent Mueller's heart racing each time Mueller looked down at his stopwatch for Jansen's split times.
"His first three splits were the fastest all day," Mueller said. That would seem to back up Jansen's contention that "it wasn't nerves." Just a skate that slipped. Three fingertips brushing the ice. A bad break, that's all.
The kind that keeps you up at night for years.
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