Though Tonya and Nancy dominated the headlines at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the persistence and heart of American speed skater Dan Jansen showed us all the true spirit of the Olympics.
Six years earlier, at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Jansen, the world sprint champion, was the heavy favorite to take home the gold in both the 500- and 1,000-meter events.
But on the very day he was to compete in the 500, his sister, Jane Beres, died from leukemia. While her death was not unexpected, it was obviously a crushing blow to the psyche of 23-year-old Jansen.
With the world pulling for him, Jansen took to the ice just hours after his sister's death. But less than ten seconds into the race, he fell rounding a turn, slid off the track, and was eliminated. The nightmare continued three days later at the 1,000-meter event, as Jansen fell again and failed to finish.
Four years later at the 1992 Games in Albertville, Jansen sought redemption. While no longer the overwhelming favorite as he had been in 1988, he was still the defending World Cup champion in the 500 meters, and the predicted Olympic champ.
But once again, it was not meant to be. Jansen skated well, but one minor stumble was enough to keep him off the medal podium. He finished in fourth place, 0.32 seconds behind gold-medallist Uwe-Jens Mey of Germany. Days later, a beleaguered Jansen finished the 1,000 meters in 26th place.
He entered the 1994 Games in Norway figuring it would be his last chance for Olympic gold. He came into the Games as the World Cup champion and new record-holder in the 500 meters, but his critics still bemoaned his Olympic failures.
Three hundred meters into the 500-meter event, it happened again. Jansen lost his balance coming around a turn and dragged his hand on the ice. In a sport where hundredths of seconds mean so much, the mistake was enough to push him back to eighth.
He would have just one more shot. The 1,000 meters was his final race, and it was a distance that—by his own admission—wasn't his forte.
But Jansen went out like gangbusters and by the 800-meter mark was on a world-record pace. When he staggered yet again, the whole world gasped. But this time, he was able to right himself. Jansen crossed the finish line in 1:12.43, good for not only his first gold medal, but also an unexpected world record.
He took a victory lap in front of 10,000 screaming Norwegians and scores of clapping Olympians. And in his arms he carried his baby daughter, Jane, named for his older sister.