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.
The second world cup stop of the 2017-18 season was Stavanger, Norway. Norway has a lot of history and many traditions for me. Way back in 2005, when I became world all-around champion, I met my Norwegian sister Tove! The competition was in Moscow, and we celebrated the victory together. Since that time, we have kept in touch, and whenever there is a competition in her country or sometimes elsewhere in Europe, she will come to support me! I always know she's there because she made this huge "Go Shani" banner and every time we meet she makes me sign my name and date of when I did it. Funny seeing all these different signatures from now to then but whenever I thought I mastered my signature, I'd change it. I see some of them and I have no idea how to even make that signature; I mean, it's my name and I should know how to do it, but somehow I forgot!
If I'm lucky enough and depending on the time of season, I can get some really awesome Norwegian food! This time there was something I really wanted to try since it looked so interesting: sheepshead!
Tove showed me a picture and I really wanted to try it but since the competition was in Stavanger and not close enough to her home in Lillehammer, I had to stick to the traditional Pinnejott, which is also sheep meat, with all kinds of side dishes that I've grown to love since being introduced to them. My favorite is the World’s Best Cake – a very fitting name! She has a friend whose mom mastered this recipe! I'm honored to know that the mother who makes the cake knows how much I love it and she proudly makes this cake when she knows I will be in Norway. I didn't get her version of it since Tove didn't think the cake would travel well but I was happy just knowing the mother wanted to make it for me and that she's proud to make it for me. I was lucky enough that the holiday season was coming and certain foods were in season for the special dinner her mother made for us!
We had to travel some ways from Stavanger since I wanted to see where Tove grew up and spend time with her family as well. As much as I would have liked to play video games all day and bum around the hotel, I would never miss the chance to get outside of the skating bubble and do something of heritage and experience something new culturally. I've been a part of her life for the past 13 years and, through it all, her and her family have been very supportive and generous towards me. Her children would play Nintendo with me and we would get into heated competitions of Wii basketball back then and now it’s FIFA! An inside look into my competitiveness, as I never told her about this Wii basketball thing, but I bought a Nintendo Wii secretly and I practiced Wii basketball and the next time I played the kids, years later, I destroyed them!! It gave me great pleasure winning the game – I even made a Wii basketball song to rub it in to her son.
The game now is FIFA, but of course he has PS4 and I have Xbox One so we can't play, but when we did he was very good and he beat me and even made a FIFA song and rubbed it in good! One day I will get my revenge or someday buy a PS4 so I can play him more regularly!!
I digress…back to the main story. We went to Tove’s home and her mothers, who I've never met before. She was making this wonderful seasonal dinner. The voyage of traveling with her, and her youngest daughter, was so much fun. We drove and then traveled by ferry, which is something that I always enjoy, going on one of the huge ships where the cars go on. To pass the time we ate Norwegian candies, drank Julebrus (seasonal Norwegian beverage), played games on the phone, and the coolest thing now is Tove’s daughter speaks English, so we could communicate!! It was the best because I've known her since she's was 5 and didn't speak any English. We would still play and joke but there was so much more we could do now and it was a very heartwarming, special moment that I will cherish forever.
Once we got there I finally met Tove's mother. She knows very little English, but she was so honored to have me in the home where she raised her children and to cook Norwegian food for us. I was really touched and I felt how proud she was of me when after the dinner we took pictures and she held me so strongly. Normally, when I take pictures with people I put my arm around them, but before I could the mother pulled me in close and held me in a strong embrace. I could feel the love and it makes me appreciate everything that led to this moment. All the what if’s and the negatives or doubts and fears go away when I can have these moments with people that I would have never known if I didn't skate. It’s a blessing, and since my immediate family is very small, I love that people embrace me and invite me into their lives where I can take on a form of family, from cousin to brother, son, whatever suits the situation. I am just happy that I have the relationships and the people in my life that I have and it's one of the things I will miss most when my skating career is over.
So many wonderful stories and funny things that happened during this European trip. Like driving the Martin-mobile, the special car Uncle Martin (who you met in my previous blog) let me use when in Holland, and playing Mario Kart with Dutch baby brother, who let me win because he knows how competitive I can be when it comes to gaming.
I wouldn't want to talk too much about the car but I will share with you guys one funny story about it. The car had the door replaced so there's two different keys for the car, if one side of the car door won't open, you would need the second key and open it from the other side. Well this happened while grocery shopping and I had all these bags and my buddy was with me and we were trying so hard to open the door. We were in a dark parking lot and we got the idea of going through the trunk since that would open and not the doors. When I did that, the alarm went off and the lights were flashing and the horn is sounding and people are looking at us like we were trying to steal this car. It was funny driving home with the horn sounding and hazard lights flashing, but we got home safely and everyone could see (and hear) us the 30 minutes it took to get to our destination. Hopefully we didn't disturb the people living in the neighborhood and finally we figured out how to stop the alarm! I still get a kick out of that story writing this blog sharing it with you guys, but the memory is very special to me.