Two weeks ago Dan Jansen beat the clock. Now all he has to do is outrace the past.
On Dec. 4 Jansen became the first speed skater to break the 36-second barrier in the 500 meters when he won a World Cup race at the Viking ship hall in Hamar, Norway—the speed skating venue for the upcoming Lillehammer Olympics—in the time of 35.92. "To look up and see 35 was something I'd dreamed of for a long time," says Jansen.
Five days later Jansen was back home at the new Olympic speed skating training oval in Milwaukee for the U.S. Speedskating Federation Media Day. Michael Bauman of The Milwaukee Journal began his questioning of Jansen this way: "Dan, you've won everything in speed skating but one thing...."
A smiling Jansen interrupted: "And what would that happen to be, Mike?"
That would happen to be one of those shiny gold things that Olympic winners wear around their necks. Lillehammer will be the 28-year-old Jansen's fourth and probably last shot at a gold medal. He was only 18 when he finished fourth in the 500 at Sarajevo in '84, a mere .16 off the bronze medal performance. It was on the morning of his first race at the Calgary Olympics in '88 that Jansen learned his sister Jane Beres had died of leukemia. That evening America's heart went out to him when he fell in the 500. Four days later he skated in the 1,000 meters—and fell again. At the '92 Games, Jansen finished fourth in the 500 and 26th in the 1,000, partly because his muscular body was too heavy for the soft ice of Albertville's outdoor oval and partly because he was weighed down by memories of Calgary.
But with Lillehammer only two months away, Jansen is skating as never before. In Hamar, two days after breaking the world record of 36.02 in the 500, which he himself had set last March at a meet in Calgary, Jansen established a track record in the 1,000. His time of 1:13.01 was only .03 off the world record.
After breaking the world record in the 500, Jansen had immediately skated over to his coach, Peter Mueller, and said, "There's more in there." Mueller, who won the gold in the 1,000 at the '76 Olympics, began working with Jansen in May 1991 and is one reason that Jansen is racing so well. The coach has stoked Jansen's competitive fire and particularly has changed his approach to the 1,000. Jansen is no longer trying to skate the 1,000 the same way he does the 500—all out from start to finish. Says Jansen, "Peter has taught me how to skate the 1,000. I've learned how to skate at not quite top speed and do it under control, which is what you have to do if you want to have anything left for the last lap. I definitely have twice as good a chance for a medal in the 1,000. The 1,000 has become fun."
Jansen says he has also been helped by the arrival last May 27 of a baby girl, whom he and his wife, Robin, named after his sister. The seven-month-old Jane was in attendance at the Media Day press conference as Jansen said, "It changes my outlook on everything, of course. I can leave training, and leave it at the oval, knowing that Jane's going to be looking up at me when I get home."
Last, but not least, Jansen has sharpened his focus by limiting his time with the media. Apologizing at the press conference, he said, "Nothing against you guys, I like having you around, but it takes time...and I just don't want to hear those questions about the past anymore."
Come February in Lillehammer, Jansen may silence those questions once and for all.