Shani Davis
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Shani Davis back to burnish legacy with another Olympics

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As a kid, Shani Davis always wanted to be the fastest skater on the ice. He didn’t care about ribbons or trophies or medals.

He’s picked up quite a few of those during his stellar speedskating career, although the ensuing acclaim and hoopla never appealed to him either.

Now 35, Davis is heading to his fifth Olympics, searching for the kind of speed that would get him on the podium and burnish his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

“I still want to win, I still want to be the best in the world,” he said. “I still have fun, I still enjoy it.”

Davis was the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Games, and this time he won’t be the only person of color on the U.S. team.

Erin Jackson joins him on the long-track squad, while Maame Biney is the second black speedskater to make the short-track team. Davis set the standard there, too, qualifying for his first Olympics in short track in 2002, although he didn’t compete in Salt Lake City.

“You’ve inspired me and paved the way,” Biney tweeted to Davis recently.

Davis captured gold in the 1,000 meters at the Turin and Vancouver Games. He owns a pair of silver medals in the 1,500, too.

Those are precious memories.

He wants to banish the bad ones from Sochi.

Four years ago, the Americans failed to win any medals at the big oval for the first time since 1984. Davis finished eighth in the 1,000 and 11th in the 1,500. He was 24th in the 500, using the event as a warm-up for his two strongest distances.

Those results left Davis pondering his future in the sport he’s loved since he first started skating as a 6-year-old in his hometown of Chicago.

But he rebounded to earn a world title in the 1,000 in 2015. Then he struggled during the recent World Cup season, finishing no higher than 12th in four 1,000 races.

“It’s just getting back to that moment and having that opportunity to exceed on the highest levels of competitiveness at the Olympics,” he said. “Everyone is really motivated to go back and compete at the highest level and try to bring home medals. We’re definitely a force.”

In his own understated way, so is Davis to his less experienced teammates.

“He looks after the younger people like me and gives great advice. He’s not selfish at all,” two-time Olympian Emery Lehman said. “He’ll go out of his way to help you out and having someone like him there is really good for the team. It also shows how hard he’s willing to fight to bounce back from Sochi. Seeing that kind of influences the rest of us to keep our heads up and keep grinding.”

Davis is an anomaly in the sport. He has trained separately from the U.S. team for years, including stints in South Korea and the Netherlands, and goes without a coach. He sets his own training regimen and takes care of a body that isn’t as quick to bounce back at his age.

“I never used to worry about these things when I was young,” he said. “Everything becomes more urgent when you start weighing the negatives over the positives.”

At last month’s U.S. trials, Davis finished second in the 1,000 behind Joey Mantia. Davis finished third in the 1,500.

“I’ve seen them skating really fast and I’m like, ‘OK, I can skate fast too, but they’re even skating faster and what am I going to do?'” he said of his fellow Americans. “I’m just going to put my head down and I’m going to do the work. I’m going to go out there and fight.”

That blue-collar mentality is something Davis has honed going back to his childhood. He didn’t always have the best skates or skinsuit, but he had a singular determination and the love and support of his mother, Cheri.

“I’m just honored that I can still be strong enough at this day and age, with all the things that have been going on with me and my skating, the ups and downs, be able to keep a solid head,” he said, “and staying motivated and believing in myself and not being discouraged or easily defeated.”

Three questions with Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea before the U.S. Championships

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2016 U.S. national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea changed coaches to kick off the new season. Now under Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs, the oft-injured team said they’re healthier than ever heading into the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit.

The 2018 Four Continents Champions got off to a “slow start” this year, with a seventh place finish a silver medal on the Challenger Series. On the Grand Prix series, though, they had a fifth place finish in Japan and a silver medal-performance in France. It was their first-ever Grand Prix medal. They told reporters on a media teleconference ahead of nationals that both of their Grand Prix performances “showed growth.” Since then, they’ve spent time drilling on their programs.

Here’s what we learned from their teleconference:

1. They’ve made huge strides from where they are today compared to where they were this time before nationals a year ago.

Tarah Kayne: “There’s a huge difference for me specifically mentally and physically. Last year I was coming off of a right knee surgery where I had my patella tendon reconstructed. For nationals, we were just getting started back into competitive shape. We had maybe a handful of free skate run-throughs under our belts going into nationals. I was just starting to get comfortable doing throws again. We were purposefully trying to make our throws smaller to cut back the impact on my right knee, and to make it as safe as possible.”

“Now this season, I am feeling so much healthier and stronger. We’re making our throws bigger again! Which is a great feeling for me to feel comfortable and to be in that place physically. And also mentally to feel safe doing that. A huge part of that has been being at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and training under Dalilah who I find to be very empowering.”

Danny O’Shea: “We’re healthy. That’s been the goal for a very long time. We have been elusive for a lot of our career so far. Feeling healthy going into nationals is a very comforting place to be in. Not having to scramble, rely purely on mental toughness to overcome what may be a lack of physical training is a very nice place to be in.

2. They feel like they got a fresh start under their new coach.

TK: “With Dalilah, we started from scratch. We just came to her and let her mold us. Whatever she wanted us to do, we did. We didn’t question things. We didn’t say, ‘that’s not how we do things, how we’re used to.’ We just let her change whatever she wanted to change because we didn’t want to get the same results we have always gotten. We wanted to improve. We wanted to be bigger; we wanted to be better; we wanted to be faster.”

DO: “When you’re with a coach for seven years as a team, things are second-nature. There’s been definite differences in what we’ve been doing throughout the year. Some took some getting used to. Some were very comfortable right off the bat. Overall, it’s been a positive for us and that we’re in a very good place physically right now, which is helping us be able to train hard and keep pushing throughout the year.”

3. Kayne and O’Shea don’t want anyone else to miss out on the Olympics (like they did, as 2018 Olympic alternates) or the world championships. And with only one U.S. pair spot at Worlds this year, they know what’s at stake.

DO: “It’s on our minds.”

TK: “It’s a hard job. It’s a hard position to be in. I wish I wasn’t in this position. I would love to be walking into this with three spots and have a little bit of wiggle room… it’s a job. I have to go and do my job at nationals to get to Worlds. And then I have to do my job at Worlds to make sure no one else is in this position again… We’re capable at this place and time to accomplish that goal for ourselves and for the United States.”

DO: “We have always gone into nationals trying to skate our best, but this year we know we have to go and do that and we have to win. You wanna go into every competition to try and be your best, but with the way things are, we’re going in to win nationals and make that world team again, and go to Worlds and start turning this around. We don’t want to have one spot for Worlds or one spot for the Olympics any longer.”

MORE: Three questions with Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!