SOCHI, Russia – Shani Davis came into his fourth Olympic Winter Games with the star power he’d long desired.
Yet Davis hasn’t displayed the same power on the ice.
Three days after placing eighth in the 1,000 meters, the event in which he was the two-time defending gold medalist, Davis was 11th in the 1,500. At the 2006 and 2010 Games, he won silver medals in the 1,500 and still holds the world record of 1: 41.04.
“It kills me inside to know that I had gotten all the things I always wanted since 2002,” said Davis, 31. “I wanted to be a speedskater that the Americans knew, loved, followed and cheered for.” He said he aimed for that goal in 2006 and 2010, but fell short despite his medal haul.
“Now in 2014, I had the whole country behind me, all kinds of sponsors following me,” Davis said. “I had everything going into it, then I come away with nothing to show them to give back to them and say thank you for believing in me and following me. So I’m really disappointed, not only for myself that I couldn’t meet my expectations, but for the people that have been tuning in and watching.”
Davis would make another appearance Saturday if he is selected for the three-man U.S. squad in team pursuit, and that could very well be his last Olympic race.
He said he is content with what he has accomplished in his Olympic career, but “I would have loved … having a medal, finishing with a cherry on top,” Davis said. “I have all the bells and whistles, but I just didn’t get any from Sochi.”
The 1,500 was the latest setback for the Team USA, which came into Sochi with expectations of multiple medals on the oval.
Brian Hansen, who was seventh Saturday in the 1,500, and Heather Richardson, who was seventh in the women’s 1,000, have the highest finishes so far in long track.
In the 1,500, the Team USA speedskaters replaced the Mach 39 skinsuits they introduced in Sochi with skinsuits they had worn in world cup competition.
There was speculation that the new suits had caused drag, but Davis said he was dragged down by his own performance in the 1,000-meter last week.
“It’s almost sucked all the life out of me, man, because I know in my heart that I’m the king of the 1,000,” he said, “And when I come across the line and I’m eighth, I wasn’t getting the right type of rest, I was so restless. And it was very hard to come back from that loss. I did the best I could, but it just wasn’t good enough.”
He said he faced distractions that he normally does not have to deal with, but “because I’ve been here before, I’ve done it many times, I have to point the finger at me.”
Zbigniew Brodka of Poland, who was paired with Davis, won the 1,500 with a time of 1:45.006. He barely edged Koen Verweij of the Netherlands at 1:45.009. Hansen’s time was 1:45.59, while Davis came in at 1:45.98. Joey Mantia was 22nd with a time of 1:48.01 and Jonathan Kuck was 37th at 1:50.19.
“I felt like I was physically capable of getting on the podium today,” Hansen said. “I felt like it was within my grasp.”
However, his pace was faster than he realized, which he said caused “some regrets.”
“Maybe I had a little extra two-tenths or three-tenths in me on that last lap, so that’s one of the frustrations I have about the race,” he said.
Mantia said he just didn’t feel good on the ice, but also didn’t blame the suit.
“If you don’t have a feel for the ice, it honestly doesn’t matter if you’re in a trash bag or if you’re in the best suit in the world,” he said, “you’re going to produce crappy results.”
Ryan Shimabukuro, the U.S. head coach, said the staff is also reassessing and trying to make adjustments.
“It’s brutal,” he said. “My heart bleeds for the skaters because I know how much they put in and I know how much momentum we’ve had coming into these Games. The support we’ve had not only to the Olympic committee and our sponsors and our families, obviously, to be in the situation we’re in right now, it’s devastating. But skaters all still go to the line, chin up, ready to give their best effort every time. I think they’re champions for doing that.”
Richardson and Brittany Bowe earned a collective three world cup medals in the 1,500 this season, and will look to win Team USA’s first speedskating medal of the Games Sunday.
“Obviously, one medal would salvage some hard feelings right now,” Shimabukuro said. “At this point, it’s more about staying optimistic.”