Olympian informs, inspires audience

Jill Fier

Jill Fier

Students and community members gathered in Doner auditorium Wednesday night to hear Olympic gold medalist and eight time world record holder Dan Jansen talk about his career in speed skating.

Jansen was in four Olympic games before winning his gold medal in the 1,000-meter race in the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Jansen, one of nine children, said he really started getting serious about speed skating when he was around 15 years old. He was involved in many sports like football and baseball, but decided to skate because he knew he had a special talent.

He and his family had to work hard to support his dream of becoming a great speed skater, including fundraising around his hometown in Wisconsin to pay for his training.

Jansen went to his first Olympic games at Sarajevo in 1984 when he was just 18 years old and “fresh out of high school.”

“Out of all the games in was in, I think that was the most pure and the most innocent of them all. I had no expectations,” he said.

Jansen fell short of a medal when he finished in fourth place.

“I was going home expecting a parade or something, and when I got to the airport, a few of my friends were there and they said to me, ‘That’s too bad, better luck next time,'” he said. “It was a shock to me.”

When he went to the 1988 games in Calgary, he was a world record holder.

The ’88 games became more difficult when he learned that his older sister Jane had died from Leukemia a few hours before he competed. One-hundred meters into the race Jansen fell.

“In not one interview from 1988 to 1992 did someone not ask me about my sister or about falling in the race,” he said.

Disappointment came a third time when Jansen again did not medal in the 1992 Olympic games in Albertville, France, finishing a fraction of a second behind the gold medalist.

In the 1994 games in Lillehammer he stumbled in his best event, the 500-meter race, but he still had one race to go.

Jansen finally won his first Olympic medal, gold, in the 1,000-meter race.

He said that he had been advised by many people to stop training for that race and to concentrate on the shorter one, but with specialized training Jansen won the race.

He took his victory lap on the ice with his baby daughter, Jane, named after his sister, in his arms.

Strengths are great, but weaknesses must not be forgotten.

“Don’t ignore them. Work on your weaknesses,” he said.

Jansen’s famous words from the competition still ring true today. “I do not try to be better than anybody else, I only try to be better than myself.”

Senior Kelli Hajek said she enjoyed listening to Jansen and liked his message about turning negative experiences into positive ones.

“I am on the track team here, so whenever you can find some kind of athlete to give you a little bit of incentive, it’s always good,” she said.

Hajek said Jansen’s message was important for everyone to understand.

“Just to focus on the important things in life. Goals are important, but you still have to be happy with who you are and there’s more to life than speed skating, or whatever sport you’re in,” she said.

Although his career in speed skating is over, Jansen stays busy by traveling around the country and giving motivational speeches. He also has been a commentator for other Olympic competitions and has helped other athletes train.