CALGARY -- Just 36 minutes after the fall, Dan Jansen looked ashen, but composed, a bit confused, but almost relieved. He spoke slowly and sensibly, answering every question on a worried world's mind. Perhaps Jansen, in one of the saddest hours any athlete will ever know, was one of the few people here with a mature perspective on what he'd endured.

At 22, this son of a policeman and a nurse, all of whose nine children have been cops or nurses or Olympic speed skaters, seemed to have reality pegged in a way that the millions who now pity him might envy.

Above all, Jansen said, he couldn't believe two things: How bad his own luck could be and how warm the heart of the world could feel. If Jansen leaves these Winter Olympics feeling worse about the fairness of his sport, he says he will always feel better about other people.

At a moment when many might have felt bitterness or self-pity, Jansen said, "I'd like to thank everybody who helped me . . . What's happened in the last week has put everything in an absolutely different perspective and I don't feel as bad as I would have . . .

"I've had so much support all week from my friends, my family and people that I don't even know, people from all over the world. It's just really helped. A lot of people told me how proud they were of me to go out there and do my best. It's really lifted my spirits."

Some, older but perhaps less wise than Jansen, may never feel quite so sanguine about what they saw this evening in the Olympic Oval. In a sight that many have never seen at this elite level of speed skating, Jansen caught an edge and fell untouched in a straight less than 200 meters from the finish.

Catching an edge in a straight. "It happens to everybody sometime," said Jansen. Joe DiMaggio probably tripped rounding third base sometime. But not to lose the last game of a World Series. Jansen himself could never remember falling in any race, much less twice in a week. Even in practice, he said, he hadn't fallen in six months.

"I trained so many years," he said, "And I didn't even finish a race."

The very instant that Jansen seemed to have a gold medal and an Olympic record in the 1,000 meters in his hands, the very moment in fact that his brother Mike turned to his sister in the stands and said, "He's gone through the three toughest turns . . . he's fine now," Jansen toppled as though poleaxed.

Just a blink before that, the scoreboard had flashed his 600-meter split time -- .31 of a second ahead of eventual winner Nikolai Guliaev of the Soviet Union at the same juncture.

"Dan went by me just before he fell; he was flying," said team captain Erik Hendriksen. "He wasn't dying. He didn't look like somebody whose legs were full of lactic acid. If he'd brought it in {to the finish}, we're looking at 1:12.9 {and a gold medal} . . .

"I just can't believe it. It looked like he was going to make it right for himself, for the team and for his family."

Few have much doubt that Jansen's false start and, later, his fall in the first turn of the 500 on Sunday were, in some unspecifiable way, connected to the death 10 hours before of his sister Jane. As too many know too well by now, he talked to her before dawn, just three hours before she died.

Since then, however, he seemed to have gathered himself. His first 600 meters tonight merely reflected a week full of powerful practice runs by a man who won a world title at 500 meters 11 days ago.

"I felt very very strong . . . just before I fell, I felt like I was still accelerating," he said. "Then, I was down . . . I really don't know what I thought. I just could not believe it . . .

"For some reason, I don't feel as shocked as I did after the 500. I think part of that was because of the whole day {Sunday} and my sister passing away that morning. Today, maybe there is a slight sense of relief that I can go home tonight and spend the weekend with my family. They're not going to be disappointed at all. They know I came and did what I could."

The Jansen family has been shocked in many ways this week. Condolences and encouragement have swamped the Jansens from all over the world. Small kindnesses have inundated them in West Allis, Wis. As a tiny example, telephone operators have been giving the family a free long distance phone call each day to Dan. "This restores your faith in humanity," Dan's father Harry has said.

Just this afternoon, the U.S. speed skating team gave Dan Jansen a card, and cash, to start a trust fund for Jane's three young children. Those who've been to the West Allis rink, a place of chilly old showers and high raw winds, know that extra nickels in the speed skating community are rare.

This week has brought a family death and two world-watched defeats to Dan Jansen. Yet, as he caught a midnight plane back home, he actually seemed to leave Calgary not only intact, but, somehow, a larger man.