CALGARY, FEB. 15 -- Dissension festered in the U.S. speed skating team today after disappointment and tragedy marred the first day of competition.

Speed skaters were expected to be among the top U.S. medal winners here in the XV Winter Olympics. But Sunday, favorites Dan Jansen and Nick Thometz, subdued by the death of Jansen's 27-year-old sister earlier in the day, both faltered in the 500 meters and were out of the medals.

Now come indications that at least half the team has lost faith in Coach Mike Crowe and is seeking guidance elsewhere. "We're under a lot of stress," said team member Brian Wanek. "It couldn't have wound up any worse."

Skaters from both the men's and women's squads said the team selection process Crowe devised left scars that won't heal. Four-time Olympian Nancy Swider-Peltz said at least 10 of the 20 team members have a quarrel with the coach, and Crowe confirmed the number.

"He brought it on himself," said Swider-Peltz. "He just can't accept confrontation. He was reluctant to decide" until the last minute who would race and who would wind up as noncompeting members of the team, she said.

Already, three team members have appealed to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the right to start in the men's 1,000-meter race Thursday instead of Tom Cushman, whom Crowe selected last week.

Now Wanek says he'll appeal his ouster from the starting list for Saturday's 1,500, too.

It all makes for an ugly, litigious distraction in the midst of the sport's quadrennial moment in the sun. But close observers said it's been building for months.

"Team management set themselves up for the kind of trouble they have," said Peter Schotting, a former U.S. coach who now trains men's distance hopeful Eric Flaim. "Everybody could have come out here a week before the Games and raced against the clock" for a spot in the starting lineup, he said. "That's the American way, isn't it?"

Instead, Crowe left open the assignment of starting berths until the last few days, and based decisions on the coaching staff's subjective appraisals of performance and potential.

As a result, said one team member, skaters wound up battling week after week to win races on the world circuit and secure a starting spot based on performance, rather than training in a steady way to peak for the Games.

The question now is whether that training program, coupled with building ill will within the team, will affect remaining medal chances.

Thometz and Jansen, the two top men, have stayed clear of the team controversies, but how they will perform Thursday in the 1,000 meters is hard to predict. Both are considered potential medalists in the event. But Jansen was crushed by his sister's death from leukemia Sunday and unnerved by his fall in the 500 meters.

Thometz, who held the world record at 500 meters, was eighth Sunday as his record was smashed by East German Jens-Uwe Mey. He has been battling to regain strength after a blood ailment hospitalized him in December.

Meantime, women's medal hopeful Bonnie Blair, whose best shot is in the 500-meter sprint next Monday, "is probably one of the most content skaters on the team," said Swider-Peltz, "and her performance probably will be the best."

"You just have to concentrate on your own skating," said Katie Class, who will race in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. "It's not the best situation, but you just focus on your own situation."

Crowe conceded that the confusion over team selection "definitely is affecting the performance of those involved" in disputes. "But the ones that aren't {involved} are staying away from it and not letting it bother them."

Crowe said the collapse of team spirit among his charges disturbs and surprises him. "We always had a strong team that helped each other," he said. "They wanted to be together."

But everyone wants to skate in the Olympics, he said. "In a way, it all starts from having too large a team and trying too hard to keep everyone happy."