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U.S. speed team is left far behind


ALBERTVILLE, France -- There is no joy in Albertville.

Dan Jansen struck out again, finishing 26th of 46 starters in yesterday's 1,000 meters.

And U.S. men almost certainly will be shut out of the speed skating medals for the fourth time in 16 Winter Olympics.

With only the men's 10,000 meters yet to skate, the U.S. performance here can be summed up as the fair, the bad and the ugly.

The glitter from Bonnie Blair's two gold medals obviously cast no reflection on her teammates. In 31 other race starts, there were only two top-10 finishes, a fourth by Jansen in the 500 and a sixth by Eric Flaim in the 5,000.

Unless a miracle occurs in the 10,000, this will be the worst overall Olympic performance by a U.S. speed skating team since World War II.

Olympic coach Peter Mueller suggested his skaters had peaked too early. Jansen, for instance, set a world record in the 500 meters Jan. 25.

"If the Games had been two weeks ago, it would have been fantastic for us," Mueller said.

Instead, it seemed to be characterized by the results in the 1,000, where the top U.S. finisher was Nick Thometz in 15th. Flaim was 16th and Dave Besteman, 20th.

The 1,000 had the closest medal battle of any timed event so far in these Olympics.

Olaf Zinke, a former East German, clocked 1 minute, 14.85 seconds to win the gold by .01 over Kim Yoon-Man of South Korea. Yukinori Miyabe of Japan was third, .06 behind Kim and .01 ahead of Gerard Van Velde of the Netherlands.

"Strange things happen at the Olympics because it's a one-shot deal," Jansen said.

Race favorite Igor Zhelezovski of the Unified Team took sixth, while defending champion Nikolai Gouliaev of the Unified Team was eighth. Uwe-Jens Mey, 1,000-meter silver medalist at Calgary and 500-meter champion here, scratched because of the flu.

One-time Eastie Beasties won nine of the 15 women's medals, including three of the five golds. They have also won two of the four men's gold speedskating medals awarded so far.

"Our program the last few years has been lacking," Mueller said. "We haven't had any kids coming up."

Jansen, 26, of Greenfield, Wis., is typical. This was his third Olympics, and he has yet to win a medal. He was fourth in the 500 in both 1984 and 1992. In 1988, as has been well documented by now, he fell twice while trying to skate in the immediate aftermath of his sister's death.

Yesterday, he tried to start as fast as possible and hang on as long as he could. That worked for 600 meters, when Jansen had the best interval time in the field, but his final 400 was the third slowest of those who finished without falling.

"Nothing happened," Jansen said. "I was going for a medal, and I just got tired. What difference does it make if I was fifth, sixth or 20th?"

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