A Golden Spirit
Twenty years later, Dan Jansen’s Olympic story still resonates
By Mike Savicki
It’s hard to imagine that it has been twenty years since the world last saw speed skater, Dan Jansen, streak across the Olympic ice in American red, white and blue. Two decades have passed since he crossed the finish line for the final time, captured the elusive gold medal and ended his hall of fame career. The eight world records, the 20 World Championship medals, the four Olympic games, the 46 World Cup victories, the adversities, the glory, it seems like it was all just yesterday.
But time has passed and his memories have solidified into Olympic legend. We remember marveling at his explosive speed and power, ease of stride, and pure athletic grace. We remember the sight of his final victory lap with infant daughter, Jane, in his arms and a look of exuberance mixed with relief on his face. And we remember watching Jansen climb to the top step of the medal platform, point his arms toward the sky and dedicate his greatest Olympic result to his older sister, Jane, who had died from Leukemia on the morning of Olympic competition six years earlier.
We also witnessed the adversities he faced on the global Olympic stage. Even today, we wonder how he was able to persevere through a string of slips and falls that surely would have ended a lesser athlete’s career. We wonder where he found the drive. And we ask ourselves what we might have done if we were in Jansen’s position.
“I never lost the love for what I was doing,” he shares. “I loved competing, I loved the sport and I loved getting better. By the end, even as I was taking the ice for my last Olympic event, it wasn’t so much about winning any more, it was simply about challenging myself to get better. I kept going because all I wanted to do was skate to my Olympic potential.”
Long removed from competition, Dan Jansen keeps a schedule Olympic in proportion. In addition to working alongside his wife, Karen, a professional golf instructor, in Swing Blade Enterprises, Jansen broadcasts all Olympic and non-Olympic speed skating competitions for NBC Universal. He is a highly sought after corporate speaker, manages a rehabilitative medical device company, works as a commercial real estate developer and serves as a mentor to Olympians like Tucker Fredricks, Team USA’s top 500 meter hopeful in Sochi. The Dan Jansen Foundation continues to fight against Leukemia, supports youth sports programs, and provides educational and scholarship awards.
And on the subject of Olympians, Jansen looks like he can still compete with the current batch of skaters, many of whom are more than half his age.
His story still resonates to the athlete in all of us. At his home in Mooresville, Dan Jansen still receives between twenty to thirty requests for autographs and pictures each month and opens many alongside his two daughters, Jane, now 20 and a junior at Clemson University, and Olivia, 18, a senior at Hough High School. He is recognized nearly everywhere he goes and hardly a day passes that Jansen is not asked about how he fought through adversity, got back on his feet time and time again, and found the strength to win when the odds were not in his favor.
The lessons Dan Jansen shares with us define him as one of America’s greatest Olympians.
“You grow up and you mature when you spend so long pursuing goals like I did in skating,” he recalls. “I would have lived my life had I not won, and I would have been okay with it because skating taught me so much about not only sports but also life. But I felt that [winning a gold medal] could and should have happened, so when it finally did happen, it brought it all around for me, and that includes my memories with Jane.”
He continues, “That life, and what it brought, prepared me for anything and everything when I stepped away. I knew that I’d be ready to face what came next in business, as a father, and in life in general. Skating also taught me that it is important to be flexible and to understand that adversity is a part of life. The focus changes but the skills you acquire along the way stay with you for a lifetime.”
This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2014.