CALGARY, FEB. 20 -- When the United States' freeze on Olympic speed skating medals finally thawed, a Flaim provided the heat.

Eric Flaim, the best all-arounder on the troubled, 12-member U.S. men's team, broke the world record for 1,500 meters and won a silver medal on the first run tonight in the Calgary Olympic Oval.

When Soviet superstar Nikolai Guliaev failed to better Flaim's time in the next pairing, the American looked destined for gold. But, although Flaim was still warming down on the inside portion of the track, East German Andre Hoffmann broke his short-lived record and snatched the gold away.

Hoffmann's time of 1 minute 52.06 seconds was six-hundredths of a second better than Flaim's, but the American's performance held up to take the silver, the second U.S. medal in eight days of Olympic competition here.

Guliaev had set the old world record, 1:52.70, in the indoor oval at Heerenveen, Holland, last year.

Flaim, whose best event is the 1,500, said he was "disappointed for about 10 seconds" when Hoffmann surpassed him. "We've been battling all year and he's been winning. But he's 26 and I'm 20. This is his last Olympics and I'm happy for him."

Tonight's fast run broke a disappointing succession of near-misses for Flaim, who was fourth in both the 1,000 and 5,000 meter races earlier in the competition. Still, he hated to see his world record perish so fast. "I think it was the shortest {-lived} world record in history. I had it all of six minutes," he said.

But Flaim said as the first skater out tonight he wanted to put a record on the board "so those other guys would be intimidated." When Hoffmann's time went up, "I thought, 'Jeez!' " But Flaim said he was convinced he'd hang onto a medal, "and I didn't care what color it was."

He dedicated his win to teammate Dan Jansen and Jansen's sister, who died last Sunday of leukemia.

Flaim false-started, but was off the mark safely the second time. When he completed the record run, he threw up a hand in exultation and exchanged high-fives with teammates and officials on what he hoped would be a victory lap.

But Hoffmann, running just two pairings later, skated flawlessly to best his time by a whisker.

The only remaining worry for Flaim, after Soviet Igor Zhelezovsky failed to measure up, came from Canadian Gaetan Boucher, who had a better split time than Flaim's through 1,100 meters. But Boucher faded in the stretch and Michael Hadschieff of Austria took the bronze in 1:52.31.

Flaim, a compact, sturdy skater from Pembroke, Mass., on Boston's South Shore, said he took up speed skating when he grew tired of getting banged around in hockey as a youngster.

He tried speed skating in hockey skates and smoked the competition, then took up the sport in earnest even though the nearest oval was a five-hour drive away in Lake Placid, N.Y. He later moved to Milwaukee and moved in with a family to train at the U.S. facility there.

Flaim, 20, was under consideration to race all five Olympic distances, but Coach Mike Crowe left him off the 500-meter sprint squad because he's generally slow off the start. He will skate in the 10,000 meters Sunday.

Before the Olympics, when he was still being considered for five starts by Crowe, Flaim was asked if he hoped to equal Eric Heiden's tour de force in 1980, when Heiden won all five gold medals.

Flaim laughed and said he'd be thrilled with five bronzes.

With two fourths and a second in his three races, that's not far off the mark.

Flaim's two fourth-place finishes Wednesday and Friday and his silver tonight were the best for the United States after highly touted sprinters Nicky Thometz and Jansen were unsuccessful at 500 and 1,000 meters.