Back in the ’80s, Dan Jansen was a beloved American speed skater. His story was emotional: he was the favorite to win the 500- and 1,000-meter races at the 1988 Games in Calgary, but his sister died from leukemia just hours before competition started. Eight seconds into the 500-meter, Jansen, who had dedicated his race to his sister, crashed. Four days later he raced in the 1,000-meter, and it looked like he was going to win, but he crashed again.
Despite an accomplished career, he went into his final Winter Games, at 1994 in Lillehamer, Norway, having never won an Olympic medal. In his final race, the 1,000-meter, he was a big-time underdog—but he shocked the world, winning gold and setting a new world record in the process.
As George Vecsey wrote for the New York Times: “Dan Jansen’s chosen field is merely speed skating, not finding a cure for cancer or AIDS, but in his own way, Dan Jansen showed Americans and everybody else how to keep going, that you can be persistent without growing bitter.”