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For Jansen, no medal, but maybe a return in '94 THE ALBERTVILLE GAMES


ALBERTVILLE, France -- He was stuck outside a grimy speed skating oval talking about his week and his career. A cold wind whipped in the twilight, and Dan Jansen's blue eyes darted, but his voice remained steady and firm.

He had come to the Winter Olympics in search of a happy ending. He carried the emotional baggage around the ice. So when he raced, fans roared. And when he finished, no matter the place, they cheered.

"Of course it was worth it," he said. "I didn't win a medal, but I came here saying that winning a medal wasn't my only goal."

Yesterday, Jansen was 26th in the men's 1,000 meters. There was no sadness. There wasn't even any surprise.

Four years after his falls in Calgary, Alberta, four days after his fourth-place finish in the 500 meters, Jansen left his third Olympic Games without a medal.

"I was more of a medal hope than a favorite in this race," Jansen said. "Probably a lot of America wanted me to win a medal."

But he didn't.

Since Calgary and the 1988 Winter Olympics, Jansen has been a heartbreak kid, the skater who raced and fell the day his sister died of leukemia, and then raced again four days later -- and fell again.

In these Games, he simply wasn't fast enough.

"I feel a sense of relief," he said, tugging on his white cap, trying to stay warm in the wind.

"I guess there was a lot of pressure," he said. "But I knew I had to do this for myself. I can't worry about what other people think. I guess I just got tired out there."

The sprinter tried to steal this race. Others put up magnificent numbers, and all Jansen could do was give chase on a day turned cold and bitter.

Only .07 seconds separated gold medalist Olaf Zinke of Germany, silver medalist Kim Yoon-Man of South Korea and bronze medalist Yasunori Miyabe of Japan. Zinke, who was erroneously reported Monday to be sick with the flu and out of the race, finished in 1 minute, 14.85 seconds -- almost out of the question for Jansen.

But for 600 meters, the American was perfect. His legs were like turbines as he glided around the corners and blasted down the straightaways.

4 "It was a long shot for me to hang on," he said.

In the final 400, he looked as if he were skating in quicksand. His racing partner, Canada's Patrick Kelly, fell, and Jansen was on his own.

"I wasn't pacing myself," Jansen said. "What's the difference if I finish fifth or 20th? I was going for a medal."

When it was over, Jansen slowly circled the track. He waved at cluster of fans who waved back with American flags. And then he found a place on the end of a bench near a curve and sat for several moments, staring at the Alps that frame this city.

For Jansen and the U.S. men's team, it was a day of reflection. With one race remaining, the 10,000, the American men are 0-for-Albertville. If not for Bonnie Blair's two gold medals, the U.S. speed skating program would be trying to explain away a disaster.

"This is the Olympic Games," said Eric Flaim, who was 16th. "There are no favorites. We gave it a good shot. But there are so many competitive skaters. I'm disappointed. Everyone is disappointed."

Flaim, a 1988 silver medalist, said his Olympic career is over. Nick Thometz, who was 15th, is also pondering retirement. Dave Besteman, who was 20th, just turned 29.

With the next Winter Games in Lilliehammer, Norway, moved up two years to 1994, the United States has little depth or youth in its talent pipeline.

"We have a few promising juniors," Flaim said. "It will take them some time to develop. I don't think anyone will be ready for 1994."

The only veteran skater expected back is Jansen, who turns 27 in June. Perhaps in two years time he will be skating faster and looser at the Olympics.

"There was a lot of pressure on Dan -- more than on anyone else in the Games," Flaim said.

Yesterday, after his Olympics came to an end, Jansen was relaxed. The wind whistled, now, as the competition continued on the track. But outside the stadium, Jansen sounded like a man who was looking ahead to the 1994 Olympics.

"There is a strong possibility that I will stick around for two more years," he said. "I'm having fun. I enjoy what I do. We work hard and have a lot of fun. That's what it is all about. Not winning. But having fun."

The interview was over. And Jansen received a hug from his wife Robin. Together they began to walk away from these Olympics. Robin said they would be back. They even had housing scouted out for Norway.

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