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Shani Davis feels ‘defeated,’ but not by suits

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SOCHI, Russia – One thought became clear as Shani Davis meandered through post-race media responsibilities, a half-hour that could best be described as melancholy.

This was about far more than speed skating suits.

A wardrobe change couldn’t save Davis and his teammates in the 1500m on Saturday.

The four-time Olympic medalist was 11th in his final individual race of these Olympics and perhaps his career.

Four years is a long time to dwell on what went wrong. To lay the blame solely on a suit in a sport that requires incredible mental and physical strength seems a bit silly. That said, skaters’ psyches were clearly affected by the drama of the past few days. Mentally, an about-face wasn’t in the cards.

VIDEO: Dan Jansen’s take on Davis’ Games

Davis was 11th after winning 2006 and 2010 Olympic silver medals in the event. Earlier in Sochi, he finished eighth in the 1000m after entering as the two-time defending Olympic champion.

His U.S. teammates were eighth, 22nd and 37th on Saturday.

Twenty one medals have been awarded in speed skating. None have gone to American skaters. The U.S. has won more Winter Olympic medals in speed skating than in any other sport. It’s a disaster.

“We have no medals, man,” Davis said. “We have none. The way things are looking, we might not get any.”

VIDEO: Verweij just misses out on gold

The lack of early returns led to a drastic majority decision by the U.S. 1500m quartet Friday night.

They would toss aside the new suits designed for them by Under Armour, billed as the world’s fastest, and zip up the ones they wore during a World Cup season of across-the-board success. Under Armour also designed those suits.

They didn’t make a difference Saturday.

“At the end of the day, the paper says I’m eighth, and the paper says I’m 11th,” Davis said. “It doesn’t say because of suits, because of lack of confidence or whatever you had to deal with. It just says eighth and 11th. That’s what I have to live with.”

The four U.S. men, three of whom have won World Cup medals in the 1000m or 1500m this season, cited more than just suits – specifically poor pacing, a lack of feel for the ice and, in Davis’ case, a pairing partner he couldn’t size up well against, like for drafting.

That’s not to say they made excuses. It more points to the fact that speed skating races come down to several variables. It is a meticulous sport that requires psychological strength just as it does lung capacity.

“If you don’t feel right skating, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing,” said Joey Mantia, who was 22nd. “You could be wearing a trash bag or the best suit in the world, you’re still going to suck.”

Davis wasn’t mentally there, either. He cited distractions, bad timing over the suit kerfuffle, but, most of all, a state of mind before going to the start line at Adler Arena.

“I felt defeated,” Davis said.

Davis had skated his best in the 1000m three days ago, and, for the first time in his long time, his best wasn’t anywhere near the world’s best.

“It plays with me in my head,” he said. “It makes me question some of the things that I’ve done leading up to these races. I’m not necessarily sure what is to blame for whatever, but I know that whatever happened that day really took a big toll on me. It was really hard to build myself up and go out there and think I was the world’s fastest skater when in reality I’m across the line eighth.”

Davis, 31, keeps a detailed journal of his training and competition times and feelings. You wonder what he’ll write about Sochi.

“We spent a lot of energy here focusing on things that we didn’t quite necessarily have to focus on in the past,” Davis said. “I’m sure none of my competitors had to deal with half of what I had to deal with while I’ve been here, but there’s no real excuse for it. I’m a professional. I’m one of the best speed skaters in the world. I just didn’t have it.”

Davis spoke at length about how his perception back home has changed from 2006 to 2010 to now.

He had a reputation, right or wrong, as a lone-wolf skater in the past. These Olympics were going to be different.

He expressed interest in skating the team pursuit for the first time. He’s been more marketed than ever before, with sponsorship deals ranging from McDonald’s to Ralph Lauren and Under Armour.

“It kills me inside to know that the attention I’m getting now, these are the things I’ve always wanted since 2002,” Davis said. “I wanted to be a speed skater that the Americans knew, loved, followed and cheered for. I worked hard to get that in 2006, and it didn’t quite go my way. In 2010, I didn’t have anyone working for me in that corner to pull those people in my corner. Now, in 2014, I had the whole country behind me, all kinds of sponsors following me. I had everything going into it, but I come away with nothing to show them and give them, to 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, watching, view parties, things like that. I’m very disappointed.”

Davis earned that attention as the king of speed skating, the greatest middle distance skater of all time.

So he is not accustomed to finishing eighth and 11th. He is not alone among U.S. Olympic champions to descend here – Bode Miller, Hannah Kearney, Shaun White. Doubts creep in.

“You start questioning if you’ve still got what it takes,” he said.

Davis made it clear in honestly answering questions, even when U.S. speed skating tried to hold him back, that he wasn’t making excuses.

Sure, the suit situation was not ideal. But it’s about so much more than the suit.

It’s about one of the greatest U.S. Olympians, and the wonder if we’ll be able to cherish his racing on this stage, at the highest level, ever again.

“It’s a good thing I won some in the past,” Davis said, “so I still have something to hold onto.”

Medals or mosquitoes? Zika still talk of Olympic golf

Rory McIlroy
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Olympic qualifying for golf ends in seven weeks, at which time players will have to determine if medals outweigh mosquitoes.

For now, there is only concern.

Rory McIlroy was the latest player to say Zika was in the back of his mind. In an interview with the BBC after his Irish Open victory, he said he has been reading up on the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to serious birth defects. McIlroy is engaged, and he said they might be starting a family in the next few years.

“I have to monitor that situation,” he said.

Masters champion Danny Willett was the next to weigh in. Asked about it Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship, the 28-year-old from England said he was keeping on top of it. Willett’s wife, Nicole, had their first child just 11 days before he slipped on the green jacket.

“It’s not great, is it? There’s going to be 500,000 people watching the Olympics, and you have 11,000 athletes right in the heart of where it’s at,” Willett said. “If it turns out that it would be a massive threat to myself or to Nic or to the little man, then I probably wouldn’t go. Family comes first.

“But as it stands at the minute, I think everything should be OK.”

The Zika virus is in the news everywhere, which goes beyond the standard media outlets.

The International Golf Federation posted a two-page update on its website last month, and it is passing along Zika-related material from the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization to tours and player liaisons.

Andy Levinson, executive director of USA Golf, said Tuesday that updates from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are posted in the weekly bulletins left in lockers and on the “Players Links” website, where PGA Tour players get other pertinent information they don’t want to miss – like tee times, and FedEx Cup points, and where to leave their courtesy cars.

Two weeks ago at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s doctor was in player dining for one-on-ones on Zika.

Vijay Singh made a passing reference to Zika last month when the 53-year-old Fijian decided not to play. Marc Leishman of Australia also mentioned Zika, and for good reason. His wife nearly died last year of toxic shock syndrome and her immune system remains weakened.

The other players to pull out — Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel — cited a busy schedule or family priorities.

Ask a player a question, and there’s bound to be an answer, even if it’s not entirely informed. McIlroy said he was planning to get “injections” on Wednesday so that “I will be immunized for whatever — if I do get bitten by a mosquito down there.”

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said he was in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks ago for meetings and saw workers spraying “an unbelievable amount of anti-mosquito” repellant around the various venues. He also repeated the timing — August is the tail end of winter in Brazil, and mosquitoes are not expected to be as prevalent.

Scanlon said he was most curious by the silence from the other side — the women.

“If anyone is at risk, it’s the ladies,” Scanlon said Tuesday from London. “We’ve heard nothing from them. I’m sure they’ve got concerns. And we’re distributing as much information as we can to the players.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said as much two weeks ago during an Olympic news conference. He said five or six players have asked him about Zika, though none has said it would keep her from Rio. In an email Tuesday, he said not much has changed.

“They have been receiving regular updates on the topic,” Whan said. “No player has suggested she is not coming (at least not to me). But it is certainly a concern.”

It could be another example that the Olympics mean more to the women, who rarely get a stage as large as this and have a stronger tradition of competing for country in what was the first truly global tour.

Various headlines made it sound as though McIlroy and Willett might skip the Olympics because of Zika, and while their answers allowed some wiggle room, the context of their statements suggested nothing has changed.

At least not yet.

“We’re down to go and hopefully they can give us some proper guidelines as to how to keep it at bay and keep it under control so that it doesn’t ruin what could be potentially a fantastic Olympics,” Willett said.

“Not as apprehensive as I once was,” McIlroy said about the Olympics. “As it gets closer, I am relishing the thought of going down there and competing for gold.”

This much is clear — golfers currently eligible for the Olympics are having to study more than hole locations and wind direction.

MORE: WHO: Olympics OK to go on

Russian Olympic champion positive in Beijing doping retest

Anna Chicherova
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London Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova is one of many Russians among 31 athletes overall who tested positive in recent retests of Beijing Olympic samples, according to Russian news agency TASS.

TASS named nine 2008 Olympic medalists among 14 Russian athletes, citing a Russian TV report, including eight medalists in track and field, with Chicherova being the superstar of the group.

“Perhaps it’s just a mistake,” Chicherova said, according to an Associated Press translation of a Russian TV report. “I can’t explain how my doping test gave a positive result. I’ve competed a lot since then and given hundreds of samples.”

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said 31 unnamed athletes from 12 nations across six sports failed drug tests in retesting of 454 samples from 2008 using the latest drug-testing methods.

Chicherova, 33, took high jump gold at the London Games and bronze in Beijing. She is one of two track and field athletes to earn an individual-event medal at the last five World Championships and last two Olympics. The other is Usain Bolt.

Chicherova, who has had no previously widespread reported doping history, would be one of Russia’s top Olympic track and field medal hopes in Rio, should the ban on Russian track and field athletes competing be lifted before the Games.

Russia is expected to learn if it will be allowed to send a track and field team to Rio on June 17.

“The Ministry of Sport is extremely disappointed to hear the speculation that Russian athletes are among those found to have violated anti-doping rules at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after re-testing their samples,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement through Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. “Any athletes found cheating should face corresponding sanctions.

“We have taken numerous steps to eradicate the issue of doping, and understand that the roots of the problem, particularly in athletics, go back to the past.”

MORE: Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics