CALGARY, FEB. 18 -- He fell again. Speed skater Dan Jansen seemed home free tonight, and in contention for the medal fate helped snatch away four days earlier, only to tumble on a straightaway near the finish of the men's 1,000 meters.

Having gone faster than his previous competitors through 200 and 600 meters, the top-rated U.S. sprinter spun out of control after appearing to catch an outside blade on the ice. As he had in the 500 Sunday, hours after the death of his sister to leukemia, Jansen threw up his hands in bafflement and frustration.

"I came out of that turn at 600 meters and felt very, very strong in the backstretch," the 22-year-old Jansen said. "I felt like I was still accelerating. I put my right skate down and it caught the outer edge.

"I'm not sure what I thought. I couldn't believe it."

Later, American teammate Eric Flaim stumbled just enough near the end of his heat in the 1,000 to also drop out of contention for a medal.

Unfortunate as their performances were, Jansen and Flaim at least got to the starting line. The top United States woman skier, Pam Fletcher, did not, suffering a broken leg this morning during practice for the downhill.

Those three pieces of ill fortune dramatized the dark side of once-in-a-lifetime sport at the highest level -- and put into vivid perspective the falling hopes for U.S. athletes in these Games.

Neither Americans nor the U.S. team dreamed of dominance. Still, no one imagined there would be more threats of legal action (three) by U.S. athletes than medals after six days of competition.

As anticipated, the medal count starts with the Soviet Union, which had three golds and nine medals after most of today's events; the United States -- with one precious medal (bronze) -- is tied for eighth place, behind, among other countries, Finland.

There are about 19 million skiers in the United States; that's more than three times the entire population of Finland.

With approximately $90 million available -- much of it from the profits of the 1984 Los Angeles Games -- for direct support of athletes in 34 sports the last four years, many people this week are asking why the United States hasn't made more strides in its overall Olympic sports program?

"Coming in," said Robert H. Helmick, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, "we recognized that many of the older competitors were cycling out of their sports and we would have a number of young people.

"Look at the hockey team. The Russians {during a 7-5 victory Wednesday night} had a lot of players from the 1980 team {which an overachieving U.S. team upset}. I had people coming up to me saying those kids made them proud to be Americans."

Still, some athletes are wondering what it takes to get domestic backing.

"We can't get support because we don't do well internationally," said cross-country skier Leslie Thompson. "So hardly anyone stays with the team more than two or three years."

Helmick said that $7,653,370 has been made available to seven winter sports governing bodies the last four years, including $3,022,056 in 1988.

U.S. amateur sports officials and athletes complain about lack of attention by Americans for all but a few weeks before and during each Olympics. They complain about progress not being applauded when it actually occurs -- and cite today as an example.

Bonny Warner, of Mt. Baldy, Calif., finished sixth in luge, the best performance by an American woman in Olympic history. It will be properly celebrated.

In a non-Olympic year, 1986, a four-man U.S. bobsled team driven by Matt Roy stunned the high-tech East Germans in a World Cup event -- and earned no more than a brief mention on the back pages of most American sports sections.

A major reason for the success of foreign countries in the Winter Olympics, many feel, is that so many sports are foreign to Americans. Lots of our best athletes dream of glory in baseball and U.S. football. These are sports few people in the rest of the world follow.

"There's a difference in athletic philosophies," said the general manager of the U.S. hockey team, Art Berglund. "If we had some of those great big {football} guys, maybe we'd have a stronger team."

In some of the sports comes concern about style (hockey), substance (speed skating and bobsledding) and misfortune (women's alpine skiing, speed skating).

Many of the best U.S. performances in recent Winter Games have been from speed skaters; the boundaries of U.S. speed skating are pretty much the same as those of West Allis, Wis.

Biathlete Lyle Nelson was reared in an Idaho mill town. After school, he and other children would be bused to nearby ski slopes and instructed on the various disciplines.

Facilities still are a major problem, most U.S. officials said.

"Throughout all our cities all over the country," Helmick said, "we have basketball courts, playing fields and gymnasiums. We have only one bobsled run, one luge run, two speed skating tracks. Our plan for the future is to increase those."

U.S. speed skaters have been troubled by controversy (those threats of legal action), Nick Thometz's not being able to regain full strength after a mysterious blood ailment in December and Jansen's misfortune.

The dissension centered around the selection process, with four team members challenging the selections by new coach Mike Crowe at 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

That and bickering by bobsledders over the addition of pro football player Willie Gault have not put these sports in a flattering light.

The issues for hockey include the player pool and the playing strategy chosen by coach Dave Peterson.

"We're making progress in lots of sports," said Dr. Charles Dillman, USOC director of sports science. "We just haven't advanced yet to the medal level."