BOSTON — He is one of America's most admired athletes, in a sport that comes to life only once every few years. He is familiar with hardship and admired for his perseverance.
Dan Jansen, the speed skater who finally captured a gold at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, hasn't based his life around winning.
``You can't win everything throughout your entire life,'' he said during a recent stopover in Boston. ``You have to lose sometimes before you can learn how to win.''
When Jansen took a victory lap last February while holding his infant daughter, the image made people cry. They felt relief.
After falling twice in 1988 at the Calgary Olympics (in the 500- and 1,000-meter races) and finishing fourth in the 500 meter and 26th in the 1,000 meter at the 1992 games in Albertville, France, many people wanted more than anything to see him win the gold at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Before the world saw Jansen win the gold, they only witnessed his slips and falls. That bothers him.
``People only saw the Olympics, which weren't going very well,'' he says. ``Every year, I was winning world championships, setting world records, and winning World Cup titles.''
Though Jansen has officially hung up his blades, his life hasn't slowed a bit. He travels around the country giving motivational speeches to companies. He also devotes a lot of his time to the media. After the Olympics, Jansen did 24 interviews in one day.
``Before, all I had to really concentrate on was two workouts a day, my races on the weekends, or a big meet coming up. It's a completely different lifestyle now,'' he says.
Jansen recently completed a nine-city promotional tour for his new book, ``Full Circle'' (Villard Books, 1994). The book takes the reader through Jansen's hardships: his slips that cost him medals, and the death of his sister, Jane, on the night in 1988 that Jansen had hoped to win the 500-meter Olympic gold medal for her.
It also tells the story of his triumphs: from setting world records to capturing the gold in his seventh (and last) Olympic competition. On Feb. 18, 1994, Jansen won the 1,000-meter race in a world-record time of 1.12.43.
Now Jansen wants to spend more time with his wife, Robin, and their 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Jane. ``I'm surprised my life is still going at this pace,'' he says.
The exposure Jansen has endured has been difficult for him and his family. When in public, he is recognized. When relaxing at home with his family, fans knock on his door hoping for an autograph or a glance at their hero. Jansen appreciates his fans' admiration, but says ``people need to be a little bit more respectful of my time.''
NOW that Jansen has retired and fellow speed-skater Bonnie Blair has plans to do the same next month, the sport of speed skating has taken a turn for the worse in the US. The US International Speedskating Association almost didn't send a team on the full World Cup circuit this winter for lack of funds. And the chances for training new champions have diminished with the cut in money reserved for World Cup travel. Speed skating is operating on the same budget (approximately $900,000) that it did in 1993-94.
``I think more could have been done after the last Olympics for sure, with Bonnie's and my success,'' Jansen says. ``The time was either last year or the year leading up to the Olympics. It just needs full-time people that are going to sell and market the sport. I don't think it's impossible, even without top-name skaters.''
Jansen will maintain some connection to the sport. He is already scheduled to do broadcast commentary for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and future world competitions. He also has plans to coach professionally ``some years down the road.'' But coaching would mean more traveling and time away from his family.
Jansen's personal life is important to him, and he doesn't like sensationalizing it. So he has rejected two scripts for a TV movie CBS is preparing about him.
``I just like to tell how it really happened,'' he says. Nor does he understand why there is such an interest in his life. ``For me, it's just my life. I grew up just like you did.,'' he says.
As the youngest of nine children, Jansen says he always thought he could be just as good as anybody else, ``even if they were five or six years older than me,'' he says. He is glad that his parents never pushed him beyond his limits. His philosophy is to let a child have fun first, then the work will come.
``I've seen parents that are much too hard on their kids,'' he says. ``They expect them to win, and to do all these things at a very young age ... it's not fair.''
If anybody knows the meaning of winning, it's Jansen. ``Some people say I am a champion regardless of winning the gold, and that's what means most. It shouldn't be all about gold medals and first-place finishes.
``It bothers me that my life is like this only because I won.... There are certainly more important things than winning.''