Dan Jansen knew at a young age he loved to speed skate. Jansen set a junior world record in the 500 meter race at the young age of sixteen, and finished sixteenth in the 1000 meters and fourth in the 500 meters at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Dan was the favored speed skater at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. In the early hours of February 14, the day he was to race in the 500 meters, Jansen was informed that his sister Jane died from Leukemia. Despite the tragic news, he went on to compete in the 500 meter race that afternoon but fell in the first turn. Four days later in the 1000 meter event, he began with record-breaking speed but fell again, just past the 800 meter mark. Jansen left the 1988 Winter Olympics without any medals but became the recipient of the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award for his valiant efforts through tragedy.
Dan’s last shot at an elusive Olympic Medal came at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway where Jansen was again the favorite in the 500. Dan was on another world record pace when the unfathomable happened again. A slip in the final turn that cost him a medal. Four days later, Dan skated his last Olympic race, the 1000 meter. Skating in the fourth pair, Dan put to rest the Olympic Jinx and raced to a world record and the gold medal.
“I knew I skated a solid race,” said Dan. “But it wasn't until a second or two after I finished, when the crowd cheered and I looked at the clock – WORLD RECORD 1:12.43 – that I realized I had finally skated to my potential. I was pretty sure it was good enough to receive a medal and a good chance for a gold.”
As the national anthem played and the American flag rose in front of him, Dan Jansen stood proudly with his gold medal around his neck. He looked skyward to the heavens and saluted,” This is for you, Jane. I love you.”
Jansen remains close to the sport he loves. Today, Jansen is a speed skating commentator for NBC and from 2005-2007 he was the skating coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. In 1995, Jansen was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2004 he was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. Jansen founded the Dan Jansen Foundation in memory of his sister, with the purpose of fighting leukemia. Since its establishment in 1994, nearly three quarters of a million dollars have been donated to fight leukemia.