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.”

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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