CALGARY, Alberta - Hours before competing in the 500-meter speed skating event at the 1988 Winter Olympics, Dan Jansen had a phone conversation with his sister Jane. It was a poignant, personal conversation, one that inspired Jansen to do anything he could to win. Because, it turned out, it was the last conversation the brother and sister had with each other, as his sister died of leukemia shortly afterward.
He was the overwhelming favorite in the event, and he had the added inspiration of skating for the memory of his sister. Everything pointed to Dan Jansen becoming the feel-good story of the Calgary Olympics.
So what was he doing crashing into the wall?
Jansen's wipeout a mere eight seconds into his 500-meter race was one of the most heartbreaking slips in Olympic history. Here, it seemed that an inspiration story was ready for its final, courageous chapter to be written. Instead, it turned into devastation. Americans collectively screamed "no!" as Jansen hit the ice, then watched as the agony hit his face. Sitting on the ice, his head in his hands, Jansen was the picture of disappointment. Pure agony.
In time, Jansen became a tragic figure in speed skating. Three days later, he was on a world-record pace in the 1,000 meters when he again slipped and fell, this time 600 meters into the race, and again failed to finish. His next chance at Olympic glory came in 1992, and again he fell short. In 1994, he again failed to medal in the 500 meters, leaving him with one last Olympic race for a chance to get any medals. This time, he came through, winning the gold in the 1,000 meters. Finally vindicated, he skated a victory lap with his daughter, Jane, and everybody could finally forget about 1988.