CALGARY, FEB. 18 -- The incredible saga of U.S. speed skater Dan Jansen reached its sad conclusion tonight when his feet came out from under him for a second straight time and his Olympic dream died.
Jansen, who 11 days ago won the World Sprint Championships in his home town of West Allis, Wis., tonight was flying there for the funeral of his sister Jane with only bitter memories of the event for which he had trained four years.
In a stunning turn of events, Jansen, skating beautifully for more than 600 meters and on course for a possible Olympic 1,000-meter medal, caught a skate-edge in the backstretch of the Olympic Oval here and went sliding to the ice, 200 yards from the finish.
It was a horrible sequel to the fall he took Sunday in the 500 meters, where he was also considered a likely medalist. But that accident came just a few hours after the loss of his 27-year-old sister to leukemia, and observers were sure his mental state precipitated it.
This time even Jansen himself had no clue how he fell. He said he couldn't remember the last time he'd fallen on a straightaway in a race. "I felt really good. The whole thing was really smooth," he said.
"I came out after 600 meters and was very, very strong in the backstretch. I put my right skate down and caught the outer edge" and was unable to roll his skate back upright.
Jansen said he "could not believe it," when he hit the ice. His time at that point was the best of the night.
The mishap cleared the way for Soviet Nikolai Guliaev to claim the gold in an Olympic record of 1:13.03. East German Jens-Uwe Mey, Sunday's gold medalist in the 500 meters, won the silver in 1:13.11 and Soviet Igor Zhelezovsky claimed the bronze in 1:13.19.
Guliaev is the controversial figure who last month allegedly passed steroids to a Norwegian athlete. For a while, his nation was considering keeping him out of the competition, but Guliaev insisted he did not know the contents of the package he passed and he was allowed to participate.
Once again, the U.S. speed skaters were shut out in an event in which they were supposed to excel.
Jansen's highly rated teammate, Nick Thometz, had good times at 200 and 600 meters tonight, as well, but lost speed on the final lap and finished well back in the pack at 18th.
The best performance turned out to be that of Eric Flaim, considered an outside U.S. chance, who roared along in excellent form before losing his balance in the last turn for the finish. He dropped a hand to the ice and lost enough precious milliseconds to drop out of the medal quest at 1:13.53, just off the pace.
Flaim, who was fourth in the 5,000 meter race Wednesday, wound up in the same position again tonight.
Thometz's and Jansen's combined misfortunes, coupled with Flaim's last-lap bobble, made the U.S. men's speed skating effort look star-crossed. Thometz, a strong favorite in both 500 and 1,000 meter races, was stricken by a mysterious blood ailment in December and has never regained strength.
But Jansen's problems caught the attention of all the Olympic community, and tonight he gracefully acknowledged support from his rivals and teammates.
"I've had so much support all week . . . from people all over the world," he said. "It just really helped."
And he said the death of his sister, who left three daughters aged 4, 3 and 1, "put things in perspective."
U.S. Coach Mike Crowe said before tonight's competition that he expected Jansen to do the best of all his charges, and with split times of 16.8 seconds at 200 meters and 44.02 at 600 meters, Jansen indeed was the pacesetter as he reached the backstretch in the fourth pairing.
When he fell, he simply went down to the ice on one knee and skidded several yards. He said catching an edge is not uncommon, and that every skater would sympathize, but he admitted it's almost unheard-of on a straightaway in an Olympics.
When Jansen regained his feet, Crowe immediately went to his side and embraced him, and Thometz was close behind. Jansen's fiancee, Canadian speed skater Natalie Grenier, met him on the sidelines and hugged him.
Jansen, who had remained in relative seclusion after Sunday's race, came quickly to a news conference tonight. He was taking a late plane home, he said, for his sister's funeral Saturday.
Tonight's crash only bruised a hip, he said. "But I've got nothing to be healthy for in the next few weeks."
Guliaev's success brought back to the surface the Soviet skater's problems with authorities last month, when Norwegian authorities claimed they caught him passing a package of steroids to Norwegian skater Stein Krosby. Guliaev said he was simply acting as a courier for a Soviet trainer who asked him to do so, and that he had no knowledge of the contents of the package.
Guliaev said tonight the accusation didn't bother him because he "thought it was just a provocation" by the Norwegians.