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.”

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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