Danny Davis and good friend and former halfpipe rider Kevin Pearce discussed Davis’ experience at the Sochi Olympics. They came to the same conclusion.
“We’ve always kind of felt similar on that topic, the Olympics, and how they’re sort of the end-all, be-all for a lot of people,” Davis said in a phone interview last week. “I think, for Kevin and myself, we’re snowboarders. That’s not the end-all, be-all. A good career doesn’t necessarily mean going to the Olympics. There’s a lot of other titles you can have.”
That said, Davis believes qualifying for the PyeongChang Winter Games is just as big, if not bigger than it was for Sochi three years ago. Which is saying a lot in his case.
Davis, a scraggly-haired snowboarding throwback who values style and creativity over counting flips and spins, finished a surprisingly low 10th in his Olympic halfpipe debut in 2014. He had won Winter X Games for the first time the previous month.
Davis was described then as ambivalent about the Games, an attitude shared by some top riders 20 years ago, when the sport was first added to the Olympic program and some skipped it.
But make no mistake, Davis was determined to be on an Olympic team.
He was in strong position to make the 2006 Olympic squad as a 17-year-old before struggling in the last two qualifiers. In 2010, he beat Shaun White in a qualifier, inspired by Pearce, who a week earlier suffered a traumatic brain injury in a training crash.
But before the Vancouver Olympics, Davis fractured his vertebra and was knocked unconscious when he drunkenly crashed an ATV into a fence. He missed out as White repeated gold. Then in August 2012, Davis broke a femur crashing into a pole on a slopestyle course.
In 2014, Davis completed his comeback by finishing first and second in the last two Olympic qualifiers and then winning the Winter X Games for the first time in his sixth try.
Sochi didn’t turn out how Davis hoped. He was one of many riders to criticize the halfpipe condition, and then wasn’t able to land a clean run in the final.
At 25 years old — veteran status in his sport — Davis could have waved goodbye to the Olympics for good after Sochi.
But he’s not thinking that way at all with 11 months to go until PyeongChang. Instead, he’s motivated by what happened in 2014. To do it all better in 2018.
“Last time around I worried so much about the end goal, which was just the Olympics, that I think I missed out on a lot of fun in my season,” Davis said. “I was pretty stressed when I didn’t do well.
“This year I kind of did a little less contests because I know next year is going to be so hectic. I think this time around I’m more focused on doing well in all of the events, not so much making the team and going to the Olympics. More so being a strong, consistent rider.”
Davis had a painful start to this past season, axing through two tendons in his right hand while chopping firewood in November. He needed surgery and wore a large cast at the X Games in January, where he placed fifth.
Davis snuck into the 10-rider final at the Burton U.S. Open this past weekend and finished sixth, landing one clean run out of three on Saturday. He said the hand limitations are gone, but he still must wear a wrist guard.
The difference between this year and 2014 and 2015 — when Davis won back-to-back X Games titles — is the level of competition. Though Davis was off the U.S. Open podium, he still earned a special award for throwing the best throwback trick of the event — a frontside alley oop Indy.
That contradiction sums up where Davis is right now. His style and creativity remain in a class of their own, but he doesn’t have the flipping-and-spinning firepower to beat White or Australian Scotty James at their best.
“Scotty James and Shaun, they’ve both got back [-to-back] double [1260s] in their run that are pretty standard,” Davis said. “Back double 12s was something Shaun was fishing for back in 2014. He could do it, but he didn’t have it every time. Now, he has it every time, and Scotty’s got it every time. A lot of these guys have a lot of doubles every time.
“I can be creative with my riding, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do some doubles. You’ve got to spin, and that’s the way it is.”
The Olympic team will likely be made up of four riders again. White has been the top American this season, followed by potential Olympic rookie Chase Josey.
Davis is in a group of other riders also in contention, including 2014 Olympic teammates Greg Bretz and Taylor Gold.
Olympic qualifying, which consists of a series of contests, takes place next season.
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