Shani Davis: History In The Making
KEARNS, Utah – With every appearance on the ice, Shani Davis knows he is carving his place in history.
“It’s in the back of my mind a bit, but you know, I’m still current,” he said. “Maybe when I retire, I’ll reflect on it a little more. But I still have so much work to do.”
Davis won the 1,000 meters Sunday at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating, securing his nomination to the U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
Davis is already the first man to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 1,000 (in 2006 and 2010) and is trying to become the first male athlete to win the same event at three consecutive Olympic Winter Games.
“I just simply want to go there, do my best, and if I’m the best man that given day, I’ll be more than happy to take home a gold medal and add to my collection,” said Davis, who also has two Olympic silver medals in the 1,500. “If not, I tried my best and that’s the best I can do.”
His winning time Sunday was 1 minute, 7.52 seconds, more than a second off his world record of 1:06.42 set in March 2009 at the same venue, the Utah Olympic Oval. But all that mattered was that Davis was .01 faster than Brian Hansen.
“I’m happy that I came across the line first. Did you see how close that was?” Davis, 31, said with a laugh.” I’m the older brother to all these young guys. I’m just trying to keep them at bay. They’re nipping at me. They’re taking little pot shots, but it’s all in good fun.”
Joey Mantia, in only his third competitive season as a speedskater after switching from inline skating, was third in 1:07.88. Jonathan Garcia was fourth with a personal best of 1:07.95, vindication after a disqualification cost him fourth place Saturday in the 500.
Garcia took a victory lap holding in his hands the timing chips he’d forgotten to wear a day earlier, resulting in the DQ.
“What’s done is done,” he said. “You might as well be able to make fun of yourself.”
Team USA qualified for four entries in the 1,000, but can send a maximum of 10 men and 10 women to Sochi. With athletes doubling and tripling, all of the quota spots are expected to be filled when the team is named on Jan. 1, 2014.
Davis holds the fourth spot in the 500 — thanks to Garcia’s DQ — and will be a favorite when he races the 1,500 on Monday. The 1,000 and 1,500 are “my babies,” Davis said. He may also compete at the Games in team pursuit for the first time in his career, which would make the U.S. a medal contender.
“Every time I step out on the ice and I put my hood on, I have something to prove to whoever’s watching,” said Davis, a Chicago native who was the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual sport at the Winter Games. “I feel like I train hard; I’ve been doing it for 25 years since I was 6 years old. And I just love being in the position I’m in now because years ago I would have never thought I would be as good as I am now. I’m just so thankful that I’m here now.”
No doubt Davis is the man to beat in the 1,000, having won the gold medal in three world cups and the bronze in the fourth this season.
Hansen, 23, is also a medal threat. He grew up in the Chicago area and said he knew Davis “even before he became great and famous. I’m happy that he has his high achievements and goals, but at the same time, of course I’m going to try to beat him if I can.”
Davis understands that as he gets older, his body needs more care.
“I’m a racecar,” he said. “You’ve got to put the best oil in it and get it tuned up so on race day it goes the fastest.”
He tore his groin last season, suffering one of the lowest points of his career. Now he does extra cooling down, hydrates and gets massages.
“I wish I was Brian’s age,” Davis said. “Those were the fun days when I was doing it to the older guys. Now I know what it feels like. But I’m in good spirits.”
While Davis isn’t ready to assess his impact on the sport, his teammates are not reticent.
“He’s probably the greatest skater ever,” said Garcia.
“I think (his impact has) been huge,” added Hansen. “He’s an exciting person to be around. In my opinion, he’s one of the greatest skaters of modern-day speedskating, since the invention of the clap skate and indoor skating. There’s no one else in the world that’s really rivaled what he’s done as far as versatility, especially in the 1,000 and 1,500.”
Davis competed in his first Olympic Winter Games in 2002 in short track speedskating. Compared to his first U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he said, “I’m just a lot wiser, more calm, not as nervous. I just kind of go with the flow of things.”
He is embracing his role as this country’s biggest name in the sport, a position vacated by Apolo Anton Ohno, the short track speedskater who increased his fame by appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.”
“The dancer named Apolo Ohno, he took a lot of that exposure away from skaters such as Shani Davis, which was positive,” Davis said. “If you saw the guy samba and salsa, you can understand why.
“Just the timing of everything — this is my time. And I’m going to try to take advantage of it, share myself and my story with the world as much as I can without it interfering with what I have to do.”
After Sochi, Davis said he could continue skating with a goal of setting records for most world cup victories and podiums. But he would have to have the competitive drive and determination to do the training.
“I don’t want to be a guy just to stick around just to be sticking around,” said the father of a 6-year-old son. “There’s other things in life to do.”
He might try ice derby. He’s even open to “Dancing with the Stars,” if he is asked.
“I wouldn’t say no to it,” Davis said with a grin. “It would be quite the experience and then maybe it’ll teach me how to dance a little bit so I don’t feel so awkward when people pull me out to dance. So we’ll see. You never know.”
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 13 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.