From: The Wall Street Journal
RICHMOND, British Columbia – Speed skater Shani Davis used a push in his final lap in the men’s 1000 meter race to become the first Olympic speed skater to win the event twice and the first U.S. speedskater to defend a gold medal title.
The American trailed the time of South Korean silver medalist Mo Tae-Bum by .26 seconds after the first lap before finding the speed that allowed him to again win an event he has not lost all season. Mr. Davis finished with a time of 1:08.94, .18 seconds ahead of Mr. Mo. American Chad Hedrick earned a bronze, his fourth career Olympic medal in four different distances.
After the race, Mr. Davis credited the unusual move of pulling out of the 500-meter race Monday after the semifinals to rest for Wednesday.
U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro called the move smart, saying it allowed him to work on his starts and test the corners of the Richmond Olympic Oval at high speeds. But Mr. Davis had received criticism for the move because his decision to use that race as last-minute training for the 1000 prevented another U.S. skater, Brent Aussprung, from competing.
As has often been the case in Mr. Davis’s career, he pointed to the results.
“I rightfully earned a spot and it’s for me to do what I want to do with it,” he said Wednesday after winning his third Olympic medal, following a gold and silver in 2006 in Turin. “Obviouisly, it’s probably the right thing, because it helped me with my speed. Maybe skipping the second 500 [race] allowed me to recover. I needed all that strength and energy that last lap of the 1000.
“Without that last lap in the 1000, maybe I’m not a gold medalist right now.”
As often happens with Mr. Davis, fairly or not, such decisions seem to draw extra scrutiny in the rare instances when the American press pays him the attention that comes freely to him in Northern Europe, where his sport is more popular.
Several American publications attempted long features on the Chicagoan who became the first African-American to ever to earn a Winter Olympic gold medal in an individual sport four years earlier. Often, those psychological profiles came with little or no cooperation from Mr. Davis.
In those stories his teammates often have not hidden their confusion at his decision to train away from them. On Wednesday, he cited his work with the U.S. short track team as a major factor in his victory.
Observers noticed when he held a teddy bear with sentimental value and a Chicago White Sox cap instead of an American flag in Turin. This time he skated a victory lap to the appreciative crowd holding the flag with Mr. Hedrick.
The sometimes icy relationship between those two is the source of yet another mini-soap opera. Mr. Hedrick is a Texan who participated in a 2006 post-race interview session in Turin with Mr. Davis that featured tension more befitting a boxing press conference.
But Mr. Hedrick was all but worshipful of his teammate Wednesday, calling him “just untouchable in the 1000” minutes after wishing him well on the ice. Both skaters sounded cautiously optimistic that they might actually be able to enjoy their success this time without any sideshows.
“We’ve worked so hard for this, and we’re not going to let anything silly ruin it,” Mr. Herick said. “We feel like our parade was rained on a little bit last time. We left with five medals between two of us. Five. We felt awesome about ourselves. We felt like we were very successful. I just hope people will look at us in a different light and think, ‘Man, those are good athletes,’ instead of wondering who wants to fight with who.”
Once more Mr. Davis enters the 1500 meter race Saturday as the heavy favorite. After that, Mr. Shimabukuro predicted, people might see a different side of the iconoclastic star.
“He’s obviously not the only high-level athlete that buffers himself between the media prior to their events,” the coach said. “I think after the Games he’ll probably be a little more relaxed. But he’s here to do work.”