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On This Date in Sports February 14, 1988 Heartbreak on Valentine's Day

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

American Dan Jansen, one of the World’s top speed skaters, going into the Calgary Olympics as the favorite to win Gold in the 500M and 1000M races. On the day he was to compete in the 500M, Jansen had a heavy heart due to the death of his sister Jane after a long battle with Leukemia. Skating despite the devastating news, Dan Jansen fell. He also would suffer a fall in the 1000M three days later, leaving Calgary without a medal.

Born June 17, 1965, in West Allis, Wisconsin, Dan Jansen, and Bonnie Blair were the twin American powers in speed skating. At the age of 18, Jansen narrowly missed landing on the podium with a strong fourth-place showing in the 1000M at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Over the next four years, Jansen became one of the top speed skaters in the world and was expected to compete for the Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics in Calgary.

As he arrived in Calgary, Dan Jansen was a favorite in the 500M and 1000M races, but his mind was back home in Wisconsin as his sister 27-year old sister Jane was terminal after a long battle with Leukemia.  Jane had been instrumental in Dan Jansen’s career and encouraged him to go to the Olympics despite her grave condition. While in Calgary, Dan called his sister daily to see how she was doing, but he did not get an answer on the day he was to compete. As he prepared to take the ice, Jansen got the news he had been dreading that his sister had died. With a heavy heart on Valentine’s Day, Dan Jansen, the defending 500M World Champion, stepped on the ice and slipped on the first turn, crashing into Yasushi Kuroiwa of Japan. After the crash, Jansen was seen sobbing as his rivals consoled him. Four days later, Dan Jansen attempted to get the Gold in the 1000M but fell again near the finish after skating the first 800 meters at a World Record Pace. Though he did not win a medal, Dan Jansen was awarded the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award for his valiant efforts.

With the start of the staggered games in 1994, Dan Jansen would get one last chance to win a Gold Medal in Lillehammer but finished eighth in the 500M. Four years later, Dan Jansen returned to the Olympics in Albertville and came close again in the 500M but finished fourth while finishing a distant 26th in the 1000M. Planning on retiring after the games, Dan Jansen took the Olympic Ice one last time on February 18, 1994, for the 1000M. Jansen, who was always better in the 500M, was not expected to medal in the 1000M but finally had the run of his life, setting a new world record with a time of  1:12.43. After the Medal Ceremony, Dan Jansen skated with his Gold Medal, holding his baby daughter Jane, named after his late sister.