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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.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea of the United States react after completing their routine in the Pairs Free Skate on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The U.S. pairs field opened up when Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, the top American team internationally in recent seasons, pulled out of the national championships due to Scimeca’s September stomach surgery that kept them out all fall.

“Without Scimeca and Knierim, I don’t think the United States has a team that can challenge for the top six, or some moments, even the top 10 in the world,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “Scimeca and Knierim are, far and away, the best team in the United States.”

The remaining field this week is led by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who upset Scimeca and Knierim for last year’s national title.

Kayne and O’Shea followed that up with the exact same finishes in the fall Grand Prix series as a year ago, opening up a question of whether they can repeat in Kansas City. Kayne’s knee injury hasn’t helped matters.

Enter Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed all of last season due to Denney’s knee surgery. They were looking strong until their most recent lower-level event in December, where they were fourth and finished behind another American pair, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc.

Regardless of the two pairs that advance from the U.S. championships to the world championships in two months, it’s clear the U.S. is still lacking consistency in its weakest of the four disciplines.

None of the contending pairs after Kayne and O’Shea and Denney and Frazier have spent two full season together.

“Breakups, makeups, partner changes, coaching changes,” Weir said. “There’s a very high divorce rate within the pairs community of the United States compared to the rest of the world, where teams stick it out through thick and thin. As soon as the going gets tough for the U.S. pairs, they break up.”

Thursday
Pairs short program — 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday
Pairs free skate; free dance — 3-6 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
Ages: 23/25
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
2016 U.S. champions
13th at 2016 World Championships

Kayne and O’Shea fell to the No. 2 U.S. pair at last year’s worlds, behind Scimeca and Knierim, who were ninth. In the fall, they had the third-best total score among U.S. pairs, nearly 20 points behind Denney and Frazier.

Johnny Weir’s Take: They haven’t had the most successful international season. They are coming in as defending national champions, which is a huge amount of pressure.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
Ages: 21/24
Hometown: Canton, Mich.
2015 U.S. silver medalists
2014, 2016 Skate America silver medalists

Denney and Frazier came back after a full season off and repeated their best senior international result, a second place at Skate America in October. Their total was a full 16 points better than the next-best U.S pair this season. Denney and Frazier were 2013 World junior champions but hope to better their only senior worlds finish, 12th in 2015.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Obviously, in American pairs, we haven’t been the strongest in the world. But if you’re going to look at who’s holding us up right now, it’s Denney and Frazier.

Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran
Ages: 26/26
Hometown: Montreal
2016 U.S. bronze medalists
Castelli: 2013, 2014 U.S. champion with Simon Shnapir

Castelli, a 2014 Olympian and team event bronze medalist with Shnapir, paired with Tran two years ago, but their first full season wasn’t until 2015-16. They finished sixth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and earned bronze last year, just missing the two-pair world championships team.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Last year, I was so excited when they were such a new pair. So much to learn and getting to know each other. Marissa, looking back at her Olympic experience, I think she’s such a firecracker. I think she’s meant to be a competitive, winning pairs skater. You hope that this matchup can be right.

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay
Ages: 33/27
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
Stellato: 2000 World junior silver medalist (singles)
Bartholomay: 12th at 2014 Olympics with Felicia Zhang

It’s not often in pairs where the woman is six years older than the man, but this team is truly unique. Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist but ended her singles career as a teen due to injuries. After more than a decade away from competition, she joined the 2014 Olympian Bartholomay before this season. The duo has the fifth-highest score this season of the pairs in the U.S. Championships field.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Deanna was one of my favorite skaters when I was little. We traveled together on the Junior Grand Prix, and I always loved watching her. Having seen a couple of small video clips of them, I’m excited to see how they develop and how they perform underneath the bright lights. She has a very wonderful, experienced partner.

Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc
Ages: 21/26
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Cain: 2011 U.S. junior champion with Joshua Reagan

Cain and LeDuc may be the hottest team going into nationals. They outscored Denney and Frazier at a lower-level event last month with their best score in three lower-level events this season.

MORE: Olympic pairs champions skip 2016-17 season

Jamaica bobsled team crowdfunds for new coach

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  Winston Watts of Jamaica pilots a run during a Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh training session on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Jamaica bobsled team is asking for $60,000 to hire a coach through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Jamaicans hope to qualify men’s and women’s bobsled teams for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will mark the 30-year anniversary of their Olympic debut in Calgary, which inspired the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.”

“We have the talent, the discipline and the determination, needed to contend in the 2018 Winter Olympics,” was written on the crowdfunding page. “With a coach on staff we believe we can not only contend for a medal, but also bring a medal home, and commemorate this outstanding achievement.”

The Jamaicans can attempt next season to qualify for the Olympics. It will not be easy. Jamaica has zero World Cup results this season, a best finish on the lower-level North American Cup of seventh and was briefly stranded in Canada.

Jamaica bobsled returned to the Olympics in Sochi, for the first time in 12 years, and was the last of 29 finishers in the two-man race.

That driver, Winston Watt, turned 49 years old in December and is no longer competing with the Jamaican program.

The new Jamaican program athletes include Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, a 2014 U.S. Olympic driver, and Michael Blair, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 1998.

The Jamaicans recently had a coach, hiring U.S. Olympian and coach Todd Hays in July 2014.

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton season broadcast schedule