Back to the start. Second time. Gun up. Now Jansen had to hesitate at the line. Two false starts and he would have been disqualified. But the start was fair enough—the eighth fastest of the day—though not as quick as Jansen usually motors out. The two racers skated 100 meters without incident and entered the first turn. Then, halfway through that bend, something preposterously awful happened to Jansen: He fell.
His left skate simply gave way underneath him. ABC-TV commentators said that it clipped his right one, forcing him to lose his footing, but a videotape of the race shows that the two skates never touched. He just slipped. "It was so fast that I can't really remember much," he said. "It felt like my skate slipped out from under me. I know that my first 100 wasn't normal for me. I got to the turn, and the next thing I knew I was in the pads."
Jansen tried to save himself with his arm but ended up sliding into the next lane, tripping Kuroiwa (who was given a restart and finished 11th) and crashing sideways into the foam cushioning that lines the rink. So hard did Jansen hit the pads that he bounced directly back onto his feet and, suddenly, was standing perfectly erect, as if nothing had happened and he could go sprinting off again. But then the horror of it hit him. He held his arms high and looked to the sky as if to say, Why me?
Jansen was in a daze. He grabbed his hair, put his hands on his knees, stared at the domed ceiling, all the while skating listlessly around the track. Crowe went out and hugged him, and eventually Jansen got off the ice and sat on a bench in the center of the oval. His fiancée, Canadian skater Natalie Grenier, comforted him as he tried to figure out what had gone wrong. He had leaned too far to one side as he skated. Could it have been his heart was just too heavy?
Jansen wasn't the only American skater who had an awful day. Right after his crash, his best friend, Thometz, had to take the ice. "I've always thought, if I couldn't do it [win the gold], I'd want Nicky to," Jansen had once said. And now, here was Nick's chance.
Talk about distractions. Even as the shaken Jansen was skating about in the warmup track after his fall, holding his head in his hands, Thometz was lining up to start. So what did Thometz do? He started falsely, got off slow on the second gun, didn't "hit" the first turn, took the final turn sloppily and finished eighth. It was a fitting denouement for a man who, this year alone, has fought the flu and a strange blood disorder that has left him "not as strong as I'd like; I don't feel 100 percent." Thometz's ailment had reduced the number of platelets (clotting agents) in his blood to alarmingly low levels. Most people have seven times as many platelets as Thometz had in December. Had he been bruised, he could have suffered dangerous internal bleeding. He took medication to help restore the platelets, "but it sapped his strength," says his girlfriend, Gretchen Schultz.
So paranoid was Thometz about missing the Games that he refused to let doctors take his platelet count during the three weeks before the Olympics. "I don't want to know," he said. If the count had been low, he would have known he was flirting with danger just by racing.
To round out a disastrous day for the U.S., Henriksen finished 15th and the fourth American, Marty Pierce, was 22nd. The U.S. still didn't have a non-Eric Heiden medal in men's speed skating in the 1980s. "I've never seen so many bad things happen at one place on one day," said Henriksen. "Especially at something that's supposed to be as wonderful as the Olympics."
The day was considerably more favorable for Mey (pronounced MY), who won handily in 36.45, beating Jan Ykema of the Netherlands by .31 of a second and smashing Thometz's world record, which he set last March in the Netherlands, by .1. Akira Kuroiwa (no relation to Yasushi) of Japan got the bronze.
Mey's gold medal was the first the East German men's speed skating team had ever won. (The women had won six going into Calgary.) "It's a wonderful feeling to show people we have men athletes, too," said Mey.