Despite the fact that his sport, speed skating, is relatively small compared to others, Dan Jansen has had one of the most memorable careers in Olympic history, the crux of which is played out in a new Visa commercial.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted Feb. 14, 2010)
Dan Jansen was inspired by his sister, Jane, to become a speed skater while growing up in Wisconsin. He appeared in his first Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984 at the age of 19, but did not win any medals. At the 1988 Games in Calgary, he came is as world sprint champion and a favorite to win gold. However, hours before the 500 meter event, he was informed that his sister was dying of leukemia. He dedicated the race to her, but unfortunately fell and did not finish. Days later he fell again in the 1,000 meter event and left without any medals. He competed in the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, but again left without medals.
Jansen finally took gold at Lillehammer, France, in 1994, winning the 1,000 meter event and setting what was then a world record pace. He skated a victory lap holding his two-year-old daughter, Jane, who was named in for his sister. The event is recounted in a TV spot that is part of Visa's current 'Go World' campaign. Visa is one of just nine top tier global partners with the International Olympic Committee (along with Coca-Cola, Omega, Altos Origin, Panasonic, Samsung, Acer, GE and McDonald's).
Jansen retired from the Olympics after that, was elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004 and has stayed close to the Olympics as a commentator for NBC, including the 2010 Games in Vancouver. In addition to being a spokesman for Visa, he is a motivational speaker for such corporate clients as Xerox, McDonald's, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Glaxxo Smith-Kline and the American Red Cross. In 1994 he established the Dan Jansen Foundation to raise awareness and funds to fight leukemia and also is an honorary board member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Jansen, who lives in North Carolina, spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com in New York right before heading to Vancouver.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What are the biggest differences for you from being an Olympic athlete and now being in the media covering the Olympics?
Dan Jansen: There's nothing that compares to being there as an athlete. It's what you train your whole life for. It's what you dreamt about. It's the excitement of all that, and you know it's coming down to one moment. But that's reality. I'm thrilled that I'm still able to go and not only work and call the speed skating events but represent Visa and what they have done with their spots. Putting athletes in the spotlight. Featuring my story. That makes what I'm doing special.
NYSJ: Antonio Lucio, CMO at Visa, talked to NYSportsJournalism about being an Olympic sponsor for 24 years, and back then their focus was TV and billboards. Now they are using 3D spots, 3D wall posters, building dedicated Facebook and MySpace pages. How do you view that as someone who has been involved with the Olympics since 1984?
DJ: You can make the comparisons in almost any aspect of marketing. The technology has changed sports and has changed the way marketing is done. During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, because of the time difference, people were getting results immediately via the Internet hours before NBC could air the events in the U.S. They did do a great job of showing a lot of the events live or as close to live as possible. NBC will be able to get a lot more live events on this year because the Games are in Vancouver. But they have really put a lot into getting the Games and information out on the Internet, supporting the broadcast with an extraordinary amount of technology.
NYSJ: Being part of the Visa program, having your own commercial, getting to work at the Olympic Games, is it a little bit like being a kid in a candy store?
DJ: (Laughs) No doubt about it. The Visa program is great exposure for the athletes. To me, when you think about Olympic sponsors, maybe two come to mind. And Visa's commitment to the Olympics to this point and looking forward [with their recent partnership extension with the IOC through 2020 and partnering with the U.S. Olympic Committee]. It's a huge honor for an athlete. The way I see it, they are putting the athletes in the spotlight, making them the focus of the effort. And by showing them behind the scenes, in training, telling their personal stories, people get to know them better and, hopefully, remember them and their [respective] sports when the Olympics are over. It's great for the Olympics, for NBC and for the athletes.
"Every time the Visa commercial is on, Jane gets text messages from all over. The interesting thing now is that my younger daughter wants to do a commercial."
NYSJ: Part of the challenge with the Olympics is that many of the sports, and many of the athletes, are only talked about every four years. How does that fit into Visa's strategy?
DJ: When you look at the events vying for attention [in February] - the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, Danica Patrick and Nascar - it's not that the Olympics are not huge, but you want to make them even more compelling for people to watch.. Especially when it comes to a little sport like mine. Visa has been really smart in the way they've positioned themselves globally. The two biggest programs they have globally are the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup [coming in June]. The Super Bowl is huge, but it's biggest audience is in America. The Olympics and the World Cup have global followings, and they are not just one day but two weeks for the Olympics and a month for the World Cup. And they are not every year, so that makes them extra special. Visa has caught on to that.
NYSJ: You are in a Visa spot with your daughter, Jane. Is she a star at school now because of the exposure?
DJ: She's 16 now. Every time the Visa commercial is on (pictured), Jane gets text messages from all over. The interesting thing now is that my younger daughter, who is 14, wants to do a commercial. Every time an opportunity comes up she says, 'Dad, can I be in this one?'
NYSJ: Do you see the U.S. hosting the Winter Olympics in the near future?
DJ: We had it Salt Lake City in 2002, and it's in Vancouver this year which is North America. The 2014 Winter Games are in Sochi, so the next [to be decided] is 2018. I don't see [the U.S.] getting that one. Maybe 2022, 2026. It also depends on whether or not the U.S. tries again to host the Summer Olympics [after Chicago's failed bid to host the 2016 Games, which went to Rio de Janeiro] for 2020 or 2024. I don't get into that stuff with the IOC, the politics. But they will come around to the U.S. again. And this year Vancouver will be great.
NYSJ: It sounds as if you are enjoying life. And you seem to be in great shape. Ever think about making an Olympic comeback?
DJ: I'm having a great time. And I stay in shape. But as far as the Olympics (laughs), I'll be there but as an analyst and commentator. I'm leaving the competition to Apolo Anton Ohno, J.R. Celski and the other members of the team.