USA Olympic golfers get pep talk

2016-07-27 14:40

Springfield - Dan Jansen, whose emotional journey to Winter Olympic speedskating gold captured the world's attention in the 1990s, has given Bubba Watson and US Olympic golfers a pep talk before Rio.

Watson and US Olympic team-mates Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler heard from Jansen at Baltusrol as they prepared for the 98th PGA Championship that opens on Thursday.

"He's there to cheer you up and get you excited about it," Watson said on Tuesday.

"But we're all four of us pretty passionate about it. Any time you can play and represent your country to that higher level, it's pretty special."

Golf will return to the Olympic line-up after a 112-year absence at next month's Rio Games, but many of the world's top male golfers have withdrawn due to worries over Zika, a mosquito-borne virus in Brazil that has been linked to birth defects.

"I had no reservations about going to the Olympics," Watson said. "I can't have kids. We adopted our kids and I'm not fearful of crime or anything like that. So there was no fear at all."

Watson's wife, Angie, was injured after making the Canadian women's basketball team and never got to play in the Olympics.

"She missed on her Olympics, so I was going to go," he said. "If they would have asked me to be the towel boy, I would have went to the Olympics."

Jansen was inspired to speed skate by his sister Jane and he placed fourth in the 500m in the 1984 Winter Olympics. In 1988, as a world champion and gold favourite, he learned Jane died of leukemia the morning of the 500m final and fell in the first turn. Four days later he fell again in the 1 000m.

At the 1992 Olympics, Jansen was fourth in the 500m and 26th in the 1 000m, but the Winter Games shifted schedules and another chance for Olympic gold came in 1994. He was eighth in the 500m and then stunningly won his final race, the 1 000m, in world-record time for his only Olympic medal.

He was chosen to carry the US flag in the closing ceremonies after the tearful victory.

"Dan, he's a legend. When you look at Olympic sports, he's a legend for America," Watson said. "Some of the things that he battled, he talked about what he battled.

"Not just winning. Who cares about winning a medal? Just what he battled trying to get there, what he battled in family life and things like that. It was pretty amazing to hear his stories and how he came through it.

"And then when you saw some of the videos that they showed us, and then trying on all the clothes, we became little kids real fast. Can't wait to get there. Because just talking to a legend like that and watching some of the videos, pretty special."

Jansen was mystified people would skip the Olympics with a chance to compete, Watson said.

"He said, 'You're representing your country, like why would you even (think of not playing?) That's not even a doubt,'" Watson said.

"He said that golfers, what's different for us, is that when we dreamed about the Olympics, it was about every other sport. It was never about golf, because golf has never been in the Olympics (in our lives).

"As a kid growing up, when I played baseball, I played basketball (in Olympic dreams) or thought I could be an ice skater even though there was no ice where I grew up."

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