Shani Davis is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of long track speedskating. He has won four Olympic medals – back-to-back golds in the 1,000-meter and back-to-back silvers in the 1,500 in 2006 and 2010 – in addition to 30 world championship medals. With more than 100 world cup medals to his name, he is also the all-time leader in world cup points. Follow Davis on his journey to a fifth Olympic Winter Games as he writes for TeamUSA.org.
It’s time for another blog to fill you in on my offseason training in Korea. Honestly I had plenty of time to write about moving away for 90 days to train but since I wait until the last minute to do everything, and I knew I had a long return flight home (12 hours), I will put some thought and feelings into this blog while returning home...
So we left off at me coming to Korea to train for the summer. Last year I did the same thing and I remember how difficult it was for me and my body to adapt to the training environment. I didn't take pictures of where I lived, but I will try to paint a picture with words for you.
I lived in a small one-room apartment very close to the training university. The room had an air conditioner, thankfully, a stovetop for cooking (last year I didn't have a kitchen) and a bed. It was very basic – a place to rest between skating and training. Some other athletes who lived there prior to me coming left some useful things such as a stretching mat and a foam roller (for massages). I had all the things I needed to dedicate myself to training. I was missing my new gaming laptop and of course fast WiFi so all that gaming and TV streaming was gone from my life. I didn't realize how much of my time those things took up, but here in Korea, training replaced all that and the little time I had remaining went to sleep and recovery.
My days turned into 4-8 hour training sessions, spread out from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m., with the luxury of a day and a half off towards the weekend – like a half day of training Saturday and, if the coach was in a good mood, a full day off on Sunday.
Korea in the summer is very hot and humid. The majority of our off-ice training was outside unless we got a special emergency broadcast over the phone advising not to be outside (which I never actually understood since the broadcast was in Korean). I would be drenched from the sun bearing down on me while in skating position around all these elementary and high school kids.
You are probably thinking that you misread that I was training with middle school and high school kids, but the level of skating here is something unseen anywhere else in the world. Even though the kids are young, their skating abilities are high; in some cases, they’re higher than people much older. That's why Korean short trackers are champions at such a young age and due to the higher demand on their bodies they are normally out of the sport in their early- to mid-20s.
Oh, and here I am at 35 years old, being pushed and challenged by people half my age! Granted I hung up my short track career some years ago, but I still like to practice it for my middle-distance fitness and cornering for long track, sticking to my roots. Last year when I came to Korea for training I was in total shock. I remember just in my first week of training I was doing more laps than I did all of the previous summer, and don't forget the off-ice training: running, skating drills, jumping and weight training. I figured since I had some experience from the past season and I somehow survived, how much worse could things get this summer?
The first week this year I didn't do crazy amounts of laps; it was more building into the training. And I was very thankful for that, but once training picked up and the efforts went from 'feel it out' to 'as much as you can,' I knew I was in for a world of trouble. The worst was our endurance days of skating 3,000 meters. The kids would make a game of getting in front of me, so I wouldn't get a good draft off of the bigger skaters and I would struggle because I'm heavier and would sink into the ice unlike the little kids who were so light in weight. They would laugh at my suffering, but in a friendly way. I didn't take offense; sometimes I would laugh at how ridiculous the workouts got in terms of toughness and seeing these kids just killing it, gliding over the chopped up ice.
I was motivated to do the same, and once I got my wind, I was able to hang with the little dogs! I even got my revenge when I could lead first, and when I was somewhat fresh, I would go extra hard and try to make a strong progressive towards the end. I was just trying to spread the love and return the favor. I really got them when we had to do hill running or endurance running. Since my legs are much longer than theirs, my one stride would be double or triple of theirs, but after my sweet short victory of bullying and picking on the kids we would have skate-position training and again they could get much lower than I and we were back to square one. Hopefully I made it just as difficult for them as they did for me. After all, I believe in equality!!
Another thing I was looking forward to while I was visiting was returning to the water park we went to for a fun day last season. It was a small outdoor water park on a lake and they had obstacle courses, water slides and boat rides. I think I had the most fun being there, running around and throwing the kids off of rafts, or being the king of the mountain. We had life vests so it was all in good fun – until I injured myself on one of the slides. The slide was a big air cushion and people would go to the front of the cushion and others would jump onto the end of the cushion, sending the person in the front flying into space and crashing down hard in the water.
All the kids would want me to jump on the end since I was heavy and I could get them higher, so I would, but one time I was getting off the slide and I caught my toe on a hook. For almost a month, I had the worst foot pain in my small toe. I think it was a blessing since it got me rest from training, but I was quite worried at the time it was something serious.
After all the playing, we had a traditional Korean BBQ meal. The parents brought out this huge smoker and cooked samgyupsal (pork belly) and other dishes I can't spell, and before leaving we had another free-for-all water wrestling competition. I ended up wrestling another skater there who was close to my age and we both wouldn't give up. After about 10 or so minutes of giving it my all to toss this guy off the side of the raft, he scooped me up and threw me in. I was hoping there wasn't video of this since my pride was on the line, but there is and let's just say I lost because of my injured toe!!
There are a lot of stories of my time in Korea, but these are the ones I remember the most. I also snuck away for one night out in Itaewon but that's not for sharing. It was one of the best nights I had while in Korea and next time I come back I definitely have to go back. Enjoy these stories and we will talk again soon because now it is time for me to transition into the world of long track! Wish me luck and thanks for listening!!
Until next time,