Next month, Shani Davis will attempt to become the first male skater to win the same event at three straight Olympics, having captured gold in the 1,000 meters at both Turin and Vancouver. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)
Kearns, Utah— Shani Davis was a star at the last two Olympics.
Only now does he seem comfortable with the role.
As he heads into what could be his final Winter Games, the 31-year-old U.S. speedskater has finally embraced the spotlight and come to terms with the remarkable legacy he’ll leave behind no matter what happens in Sochi.
“It’s my time,” Davis said. “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.”
Next month, he will attempt to become the first male skater to win the same event at three straight Olympics, having captured gold in the 1,000 meters at both Turin and Vancouver. Also, he’s looking to improve on the pair of silver medals he settled for in the 1,500, switching up his training methods with the goal of peaking at just the right time.
Davis’ impact goes beyond gold and silver, though. He was the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Games, and he remains one of the few people of color at the oval. Growing up in Chicago, he passed on more traditional sports his friends played for the chance to go really fast with a pair of blades on his feet.
His journey has truly been remarkable, but for the longest time it wasn’t one Davis felt at ease sharing beyond his close circle of family and friends. He passed on sponsorship opportunities, turned down the chance to yuk it up on the talk-show circuit, ran hot and cold with the media. To many, he was as known as much for a feud with U.S. teammate Chad Hedrick, a five-time Olympic medalist, as for his impressive feats on the ice.
But it was a different Davis who dominated the recent U.S. speedskating trials in suburban Salt Lake City.
He bantered easily with reporters about his skating, his struggles with an iPad, his 6-year-old son. He played right along when someone asked whether he’d want to appear on “Dancing With the Stars” after the Olympics like his friend, retired short track star Apolo Anton Ohno.
“Hopefully Apolo would want to be my coach,” Davis said. “Maybe he can teach me how to dance a little bit, so I won’t feel so awkward when people pull me out to dance.”
Ohno definitely notices a change in Davis heading into the Sochi Games. He’s exposing himself more than ever, from taking a lead role in NBC’s pre-Olympic promotional barrage to signing on for a commercial with McDonald’s. He’s willing to reveal a playful side that Ohno has known about for years, but so many others never got a chance to see.
“Shani’s got a wonderful personality, but he was very closed off for a long, long time,” said Ohno, who will serve as an NBC analyst during the Games. “He is understanding what the total package for becoming a champion is all about. It’s not just results. It’s everything that comes with it.”
Beyond his Olympic accomplishments, Davis has firmly established himself as one of the greatest speedskaters ever for the better part of a decade. He followed Eric Heiden as the only male to capture both the world all-round and world sprint championships. Davis has 57 individual World Cup victories and a shot at passing the only man ahead of him on the career list, Canada’s Jeremy Wotherspoon with 67.
What makes that success even more impressive is Davis’ lone-wolf approach. For much of his professional career, he has essentially coached himself — setting up his own training regimen, plotting strategy in his head before races, getting in tune with what his body can and can’t do better than anyone else.
“The guy doesn’t have a coach,” Ohno marveled. “He says, ‘Today, I need to work on my speed. Tomorrow I’ll do some endurance. The next day I’ll do a little bit of strength. And I’ll take it easy the final day.’ Who does that? I could never do that.”
Davis is not ready to retire just yet, but he has no idea if he’ll still be skating four years down the road.
Now that he’s older than most of the guys he’s competing against, more work is required off the ice to make sure his body doesn’t break down. After tearing a groin muscle last season, Davis is mindful of things he used to take for granted: extra laps after a race to cool down, staying hydrated, always getting in the cold baths and massages that help him recover.
“I’m a race car,” Davis said mischievously. “I’ve got to put the best oil in it, get it tuned up, so on race day it goes the fastest.”
With that, he smiled.
It looked good on him.
White eighth in slopestyle
Shaun White finished eighth in slopestyle qualifying Thursday to advance at the U.S. Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colo.
Feeling healthy again after recently tweaking his left ankle, White scored 77.2 points on his first run to move on to today’s final, which will serve as the third of five selection events for the U.S. Olympic team. White also qualified for the halfpipe final on Saturday.
Billy Morgan of Britain had the top run of the afternoon to finish first in qualifying.
On the women’s side, Jamie Anderson turned in the best run to earn a score of 91.4.
U.S. 1-2-3 in halfpipe heat
Gus Kenworthy, David Wise and Simon Dumont all had solid performances to advance in ski halfpipe qualifying at the season’s third Olympic qualifying event in Breckenridge, Colo.
The trio of Americans went 1-2-3 in their heat to earn spots in the final on Sunday at the U.S. Grand Prix. Kevin Rolland of France had the top overall score.
Brita Sigourney posted the best women’s score on the women’s side. Maddie Bowman also won her heat.
Sigourney and Bowman are inching closer and closer to securing spots on the U.S. Olympic team. The ski halfpipe event will make its Olympic debut in Sochi.
India athletes will compete under the Olympic flag — not their national flag — at next month’s Winter Games in Sochi.
The three Indians who qualified for the Games will compete as “independent” athletes, rather than represent their country, after their national body failed to schedule elections before the start of the Olympics on Feb. 7.
The Indian Olympic Association was suspended by the IOC in December 2012 for electing tainted officials, notably secretary-general Lalit Bhanot, who spent more than 10 months in jail on corruption charges related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The International Olympic Committee said last month it would lift the suspension once new elections are held. The Indians have set their general assembly for Feb. 9, two days after the opening of the Sochi Olympics.
The trio includes Shiva Kesavan, a 32-year-old luger who will be appearing in his fifth Winter Games.
Kesavan told Indian media that not being able to compete under the national flag was “shameful and pathetic.”
“It is a sad and embarrassing situation that Indian sport has been put in,” he said. “People around the world know about the failure of our systems and about corruption and bad governance in sports.”
Under pressure from the IOC, the Indian body amended its constitution last month to ban corruption-tainted officials from running for election. Had India not complied, it would have become the first country expelled from the Olympics since South Africa was kicked out more than 40 years ago.
Cossacks in control
The 2012 London Olympics had the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, resplendent in their red coats and tall bearskin hats.
Now the 2014 Sochi Olympics will have the Cossacks.
More than 400 of the soldiers reported to Sochi on Thursday to help with security. As part of foot patrols, they will don traditional tunics, fur hats and swords.
“They’ve already arrived at the resort and will take part in maintaining security all the way to the end of the Paralympic Games,” a spokesman for the Kuban Cossack Brigade told R-Sport.
During their long history, the troops have been symbols of both inspiration and repression. They now become part of a heightened military presence in Sochi.
Security has been of particular concern at these Games, with fears bolstered by the recent terrorist bombings in nearby Volgograd.