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.”

Shani Davis makes one more Olympic speed skating team (video)

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Shani Davis is going to another Olympics, looking to add to his four speed skating medals.

The 35-year-old finished second in the 1000m at the Olympic Trials in West Allis, Wis., on Wednesday to take one of up to three U.S. spots in the event in PyeongChang next month.

“I never used to worry about these things when I was young. Of course, it was more of an automatic thing,” Davis said. “Today, I was thinking what would happen if I wasn’t going to make the team. … I went out there and fought like it was the last race of my career.”

Sochi Olympian Joey Mantia won the trials 1000m in 1:09.15. Davis was second in 1:09.23, followed by Mitch Whitmore in 1:09.31 to likely round out the Olympic team in the event.

Whitmore’s spot will be safe if some men start making the team in multiple events, which is highly expected, to keep the overall men’s roster size to a maximum of eight.

Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe, who both own 1000m world titles, went one-two in the women’s 1000m at trials later Wednesday to make the Olympic team.

Davis earned Olympic 1000m gold in 2006 and 2010 but finished eighth in Sochi as part of a stunning medal-less performance from the U.S. in its historically most successful Winter Games sport.

“It’s not a passing moment that I don’t think about 2014, but there’s nothing I can do about it now,” he said in 2016.

Davis rebounded from Sochi to earn a surprise world 1000m title in 2015, a crown that helped convince him not to retire. He has struggled since, finishing 12th, 12th, 13th and 14th in four World Cup 1000m races this season.

“I’m not a middle-type-of-the-pack skater,” Davis said in 2015, before his bounce-back world title. “If I’m not competitive with the rest of the world, and I’m sixth and seventh and eighth, whatever, then it’s not for me. I can happily move on.”

Davis also owns Olympic 1500m silver medals from 2006 and 2010 and will race that event at trials on Saturday. Again, the top three are in line to make the Olympic team.

He entered trials as the third-fastest U.S. man in both the 1000m and 1500m this season.

“I think I can put myself in the higher rankings worldwide, not just in America,” Davis said. “I still want to be the fastest speed skater in the world.”

Up to 16 skaters could qualify for the Olympic team at trials with the best medal hopes in the 1000m, 1500m and mass start.

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U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Tuesday, Jan. 2 4:15 p.m. Women’s 3000m LIVE STREAM
5:30-7 p.m. Women’s 3000m NBCSN, Streaming
Wednesday, Jan. 3 6-7:30 p.m. 1000m NBCSN, Streaming
Thursday, Jan. 4 6:30-8:30 p.m. Women’s 5000m NBCSN, Streaming
Friday, Jan. 5 4:20 p.m. 500m #1 LIVE STREAM
6:30-8 p.m. 500m #2 NBCSN, Streaming
Saturday, Jan. 6 6-8 p.m. 1500m NBCSN, Streaming
Sunday, Jan. 7 6-6:45 p.m. Mass start NBCSN, Streaming

U.S. Olympic speed skating trials preview, broadcast schedule

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The U.S. speed skating flop in Sochi did not carry over.

Four different Americans won world titles between 2015 and 2017.

The top U.S. skaters in this Olympic cycle — Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe — traded 1000m and 1500m world records in 2015.

The World Cup and world championships medals make what happened in Sochi — zero medals for the first time since 1984 in the U.S.’ most successful Winter Olympic sport — stand out even more.

“Of course after Sochi we looked into, like, everything that possibly could have went wrong and tried to figure out where we went wrong, but I think it was just no one was at their best at Sochi,” Bergsma said last spring.

U.S. Speedskating determined after Sochi that several factors — not just the well-publicized Under Armour skinsuit debacle — led to poor performances from every medal hopeful.

Among them was emphasizing training at altitude despite the Olympics being held near sea level.

“It wasn’t the suits,” Bergsma said in the spring. “I just think we weren’t peaked, and mentally after one person was done, we just kept dropping.

“We’re winning in [different Under Armour] suits now, so I don’t think there’s a problem there.”

Under Armour developed suits for PyeongChang with input from athletes after wind-tunnel testing months ago.

Skaters will receive them after qualifying for the Olympics at next week’s trials near Milwaukee (NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

They will have a full month to train in them versus the week and a half they had before Sochi. They’re similar to the suits most skaters have worn this World Cup season.

“We hated them [the 2014 Olympic suits], to be perfectly honest,” two-time U.S. Olympian Mitch Whitmore said. “These [2018 suits] we know exactly what we’re wearing going into it. We all feel very comfortable in it.”

This season has been the least successful for U.S. skaters since Sochi.

They combined for one World Cup race victory in the fall. Bowe and four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis have been kept off the podium altogether.

Japanese and Russians, plus the always dominant Dutch, are out in front.

But Americans racked up World Cup wins before the Olympics four years ago before falling behind in Sochi. Could they be timing peaks better this season?

Up to 16 skaters could qualify for the Olympic team at trials with the best medal hopes in the 1000m, 1500m and mass start.

Bergsma, eyeing her third Olympics and first medals, swept the 1000m and 1500m at the world championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February, plus added a mass start bronze.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard, missed almost all of last season with a concussion and was slowed this fall by illness. She swept the 1000m and 1500m at the 2015 World Championships and was the world’s best sprinter in 2015 and 2016.

Davis is trying to make one more Olympic team at age 35. All of his Olympic medals came in the 1000m and 1500m in 2006 and 2010. His best World Cup finish in the fall was 11th.

The top three men in the 1000m and 1500m at trials are in line to make the Olympic team. Davis ranks third among Americans in those events this season.

Joey Mantia is the reigning world champion in the mass start, a race making its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Dutch speed skaters won’t defend Olympic titles

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Tuesday, Jan. 2 4:15 p.m. Women’s 3000m LIVE STREAM
5:30-7 p.m. Women’s 3000m NBCSN
Wednesday, Jan. 3 6-7:30 p.m. 1000m NBCSN
Thursday, Jan. 4 6:30-8:30 p.m. Women’s 5000m NBCSN
Friday, Jan. 5 4:20 p.m. 500m #1 LIVE STREAM
6:30-8 p.m. 500m #2 NBCSN
Saturday, Jan. 6 6-8 p.m. 1500m NBCSN
Sunday, Jan. 7 6-6:45 p.m. Mass start NBCSN