US speed skaters reminisce

Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair were helped through the highs and lows of the Olympics by the support of a close-knit team that exuded a team spirit they do not see in the US speedskating squad going to Vancouver.

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"That two-week period was the toughest of my life and I'll never forget that," Jansen said of his experience at the 1988 Calgary Games.

The American crashed in two races as gold medal favourite after getting the heartbreaking news that his sister Jane had succumbed to cancer on the eve of the Olympics.

"They rallied around me," he said of his team mates.

Blair, who ended East German dominance in the 500 metres at Calgary to claim her first of five career Olympic gold medals, said the team spirit was very supportive.

"I would definitely say we had a very close knit group in Calgary," Blair said.

That team esprit contrasts with US discord at the 2006 Turin Olympics, where gold medallists Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick publicly feuded.

Evidence of dissonance can be seen in the US Speedskating's media guide for the Olympics, which does not contain a single picture of or information about top medals contender Davis, who by choice has disassociated himself from the federation.

Jansen, who six years after Calgary finally realised his Olympic dream by winning 1,000 metres gold at Lillehammer, said Blair's 1988 triumph was one of his top Olympic memories.

"We had Bonnie Blair win her first gold medal at those Games, which was a huge lift for all of us, and me personally. Bonnie is like a sister to me," said Jansen.

"That remains one of my favorite Olympic moments. The team was very close. I don't know if there is quite the same tightness now as there used to be.

"There are a lot of different people training with different coaches and it's just a little bit of a different dynamic.

"I would prefer to see it the other way, everybody hang out together and train together."

US speed skaters can choose not to sign a marketing agreement with the federation and instead go their own way in finding sponsors and handling their own training and expenses.

Short track champion Apolo Anton Ohno, Davis and Hedrick have taken that path. Ohno and Hedrick, however, allow the US federation to include them for promotional purposes.

Blair, who serves on the board of directors for US Speedskating, said leading skaters now have more opportunities to go it alone.

"There's more ability for athletes to get sponsorships and make a living by still doing what they love," she said.

"It's kind of a sign of the times. Back when DJ (Jansen) and I were skating, we had some opportunities, but the opportunities weren't as great as they are for these athletes."

US Speedskating officials would not comment about Davis and his absence from the media guide, referring questions to Team Davis, headed by his mother, Cherie.

Blair also demurred when asked about the maverick ways of Davis, who is favourite to win gold at both 1,000 and 1,500 metres at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

"Going into the last Olympics, his mom made it very clear that I was to have nothing to do or say about him," Blair said.

"That's not my choice, it's hers."

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