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Jansen is now on outside looking in

Dan Jansen glided down the ice, his eyes locked on the camera at the end of the straightaway as he talked about medal favorites and clap skates and the cavernous M-Wave.

When he stumbled a bit over the words, he circled the 400-meter oval and started over.At these Winter Olympics, Jansen gets another chance when he slips.

"That's the beauty of taped TV," said Jansen, now a speed skating analyst for CBS Sports, which is showing the races on a delayed basis. "We're going to call them live, but if we screw up . . ."

Four years after he captured the magic of Lillehammer by winning his first gold medal and taking his daughter Jane on a victory lap in the Viking Ship, Jansen is now on the outside looking in.

These are the first Winter Games since 1984 without Jansen and Bonnie Blair to carry the American hopes. It shows.

Four events, two American records, no medals.

Jansen's advice: Give the kids a chance.

"True, we're not there," he said. "But we went through the same thing in 1984."

Eric Heiden won his record five gold medals at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid and called it quits. Jansen and Blair were teenagers when they made their Olympic debut four years later in Sarajevo.

Each finished fourth in the 500, but the United States failed to medal in speed skating for the first time since the 1956 Games, the last Olympics before women's races were added.

"We had a lot of good finishes, and that was great for as young as we were," Jansen said. "I think this team is going to be similar to that. You shouldn't always be measured by the medals. Look at the full picture."

There has been some cause for optimism.

Jennifer Rodriguez offered hope in the 3,000. A former in-line skater from south Florida who began skating just two years ago, she set an American record and finished fourth behind a German sweep.

It was the best U.S. finish in the 3,000 since Beth Heiden won the bronze in 1980. Kirstin Holum, 17, finished sixth. Although she said she will retire, she has not ruled out a return to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Games.

On Thursday, KC Boutiette set an American record in the men's 1,500 and wound up fifth - a marked improvement from Lillehammer, where he finished 39th after taking up the sport just four months earlier.

"These guys have a lot more experience than us," Boutiette said.

Still, it was the best U.S. finish at that distance since Eric Flaim won the silver 10 years ago in Calgary.

Those were the same games where Jansen's Olympic heartaches began.

He was plagued by falls in the 500 and 1,000 meters in Calgary after learning his sister had died of leukemia. Four years later in Albertville, he held the world record in the 500, but wound up fourth.

And in Lillehammer, he was bedeviled by a slip in the 500 that cost him a chance to win the gold.

But he also produced the feel-good story in 1994, somehow keep-ing his balance around the final turn and managing to win the 1,000 meters - his only Olympic medal - in world-record time.

Whether the U.S. team can capture the magic of Lil-le-hammer is doubtful. This is a new generation of speed skaters - four of them converts from in-line skates - trying to carve out a new identity.

There are times when Jansen wonders if he should have stuck around a little longer. Then he sees Boutiette whiz by in his dyed-white hair.

"I never thought I'd feel old, but they make me feel old," Jansen said. "I miss being out there, especially now that the races are here. But four Olympics and a lot of years being on top - it was time to move on."