KEARNS, Utah – Shani Davis waved to the crowd at the Utah Olympic Oval and placed his hand over his heart as he cooled down following the world cup men’s 1,500-meter Saturday.
Seeking his fifth straight U.S. Olympic team at age 35, Davis has been a fixture on this ice since the facility was built for the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002.
“My spirit is still young and I’m young at heart,” said the four-time Olympic medalist, “but I just don’t recover the same (as he did four years ago). But I still love the sport of speedskating and I always find a challenge in competing and trying to be the best I can be. So as long as I have that in me, age doesn’t mean a thing.”
Davis’ time of 1 minute, 44.16 seconds in the fourth and final pre-Olympic world cup was his best of the season, but only good enough for 13th place.
“That was definitely a step in the right direction,” said Davis, who won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 1,000-meter and back-to-back silver medals in the 1,500 in 2006 and 2010. “I need to stay healthy, No. 1, approach every race with a positive attitude and just make any corrections I need to make from any mistakes I made in the races and just move forward.”
Teammate Joey Mantia had the best performance so far for Team USA at this world cup, garnering his second straight fourth-place finish in the 1,500-meter. Brian Hansen placed 16th in the event in 1:44.35.
Davis had already left the ice when Mantia skated in the final pairing with Denis Yuskov of Russia, who broke Davis’ eight-year-old world record. Posting a time of 1:41.02, Yuskov shaved .02 seconds off the mark Davis set at the same venue on Dec. 11, 2009. Davis still holds the world record in the 1,000, set at the same world cup.
Mantia, whose time of 1:42.77, was close to his season best of 1:42.54 set last week, said he hasn’t “really been myself the last couple of days.”
On Friday, he helped Team USA clinch the eighth and final Olympic spot in men’s team pursuit. After Mantia, Hansen and Emery Lehman skated one of the fastest times in American history, Mantia went home early.
“I wasn’t feeling too well yesterday,” said Mantia, who won a silver medal in the 1,500 in November in Stavanger, Norway. “I don’t know if it was the effort from the team pursuit or if I’m battling a little bit of a cold. I don’t know if that had any bearing on the race. I was just a little bit out of it today.
“I put forth the effort, just didn’t have the times.”
Mantia also said two bad slips cost him. “A couple of times I tried to dig and get some more speed out of the corners, and they just let go on me,” he said. “It could just be a little bit of nerves, technical mistakes, but (Yuskov) just skated a flawless race and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
While Mantia said he was disappointed not to perform well at home, “the big picture is the Olympics. Any time you get top five this early, you’re within striking distance and usually the guys that are peaking this early aren’t that good at the Games. So I’ll keep my head up and stay positive going forward.”
So will Davis, whose 1,000-meter on Sunday will be his final competition before the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating in Milwaukee in early January.
Davis started out in the B division on the world cup circuit this season in the 1,500, placing fourth in the Netherlands speedskating hotbed of Heerenveen in 1:46.90. He then advanced to the A division, finishing 11th in Stavanger Norway in 1:46.51. He was also 13th in Calgary last week with a time of 1:44.33.
“The younger kids are skating faster and they’re getting very, very close,” Davis said. “Some are beating me and I just need to make sure I do the best of my abilities and stick to that, and I should be fine.”
And that would mean another trip to the Olympics. In 2002, Davis made his first Olympic team in short track speedskating, though he did not compete in Salt Lake City. He then switched his focus to long track.
“I just want to get back there and just give it one more try,” said Davis, who was eighth in the 1,000 in Sochi four years ago and 11th in the 1,500. “There’s nothing like the Olympic experience, going over there, competing for your country and trying to go out there and do your best and bring something home. So that’s what it’s about for me now.”
And Davis knows exactly what he needs to do to get there.
“I just need to make sure to be top three,” he said with a smile. “I mean it’s a lot harder than it used to be, but I would expect that after being in a sport for so long. That’s the nature of the beast.”