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LILLEHAMMER: ’94 WINTER OLYMPICS : DATELINE / LILLEHAMMER : Jansen’s Gold Rush Reduces Cynics to Softies

Sportswriters are not a particularly disciplined lot. Cynical, yes; disciplined, no. But there is one rule they generally follow: No cheering in the press box.

So what was that outburst Friday afternoon among the cynics in the main press center here? It sounded remarkably like a cheer.

In fact, it sounded remarkably like the cheer that resounded one February Friday night in 1980 at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Fourteen years ago, the cheer was for the U.S. hockey team, which had just beaten the heavily favored Soviets on its remarkable journey to a gold medal.

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This time, the cheer was for Dan Jansen, who had just completed his own remarkable journey to a gold medal.

Sometimes, even the no-cheering rule doesn’t apply.

If ever there was a gold-medal kid, it’s Jansen. Genuine, down-home friendly, the world’s best sprinter for the last decade or so, he had won everything worth winning in speedskating except an Olympic medal. And his Olympic failures had been spectacular.

Twice in 1988, when he skated as a tribute to his sister, who had just died of leukemia, he fell. In 1992, he skated too cautiously in one race and ran out of gas in the other. And Monday, while on a world-record pace, he had bobbled again in his specialty, the 500-meter race.

So when Jansen toed the starting line in Hamar, for the last time in four Olympics, the cynics harbored no illusions.

“I can’t watch,” one said, turning away.

“You can’t not watch,” said another. “It’s like witnessing a car accident.”

“Which corner do you think it will be?” asked the biggest cynic of all.

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Then Jansen was off, skates flashing, again on a world-record pace. The cynics held their breath. When he bobbled again slightly, it happened so fast that nobody knew how close to disaster he had come until they showed the replays.

And only a little more than a minute after he had set off, Jansen roared across the finish line, the record and the gold medal his. Finally.

That’s when the cheering erupted.

And later, when Jansen stood teary-eyed on the winner’s podium, gold medal around his neck, “The Star Spangled Banner” playing, he wasn’t the only one who was teary-eyed.

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