Speed skater Dan Jansen would have been all too aware of those athletes who had arrived at previous Games’ with glittering reputations, but who had failed to turn that history of success into an Olympic medal.
At the Lillehammer Games he was heralded as one of the greatest speed skaters in the history of the sport, with two world championships and a host of overall World Cup titles. However, his Olympic record was disappointing. In 1984, he’d come fourth in the 500m, but worse was to come in 1988. There, just after he’d heard of his sister’s death, he fell in both the 500m and 1,000m. In 1992, he was fourth – again - in the 500m.
Still he came back. In 1994, Jansen was 28 years old and he entered into his two favourite events – the 500m and 1,000m. The shorter distance came first, and Jansen was expected to finally win a medal. He had won six of eight races in the run-up to the Games, even twice breaking the world record.
He was skating well right to the end. But then, entering the final turn, he made an error, put his hand down, lost time, and finished only eighth.
That left just one chance to win that elusive medal. On paper, his record in the 1,000m was not as impressive as his efforts over the shorter distance and his personal best was only seventh quickest among the field.
When it came to be his turn to skate, Jansen knew he would have to beat that time if he were to have any chance of winning a record.
He skated the race of his life, surviving a late slip and then crossing the line in 1 min 12.43 secs – not just a personal best, but a world record. A medal at last for Jansen, and a gold one at that. The Norwegian crowd rose as one, many with tears in their eyes. It was perhaps the most emotional victory of the Games.