Shani Davis is considered perhaps the United States' best shot at a speedskating medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but that won't be happening in the 500-meter event.
Davis finished with an overall time of 70.98 seconds, putting him in 24th place overall and far out of contention for a medal. The gold went to Michel Mulder, whose two-run time of 69.31 seconds gave the Netherlands its third gold medal. Jan Smeekens came in second to earn silver, while Ronald Mulder rounded out the Dutch podium sweep.
Davis' first run of 35.390 seconds took him almost instantly out of the running. The fast sprint is widely considered the most unpredictable of the speedskating events, but his struggles come as little surprise, per Willie Cornblatt of NBC Olympics:
And Shani finishes in fifth, not a surprise, just warming up for the middle distances #speedskating— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 10, 2014
Heading into Sochi, nearly everyone involved with the United States skating program knew Davis had little plan of medaling in the 500-meter race. While he excels in longer distances due to his elite body control and stamina, he has never quite mastered the short, unpredictable sprint. He qualified for the event thanks to a disqualification, but it was merely a warmup for his preferred 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter runs.
Davis even told of the Journal Sentinel before the race he would consider sitting out the second leg of the 500-meter event to save his energy. At age 31 and three Olympic Games into his career, Davis knows his physical limits. He also had a good idea that regardless of how hard he pushed himself, medaling in the short skate was a long shot.
On the other hand, the American is widely considered among the favorites in his next two events. Davis is the world-record holder in the 1,000 meters and won gold medals in both Turin and Vancouver. With another triumph in Sochi—considered nearly automatic by most experts—Davis would become the first American to ever win gold in the same event in three consecutive Olympics.
With the 1,000-meter race coming Wednesday, it's understandable Davis would want to conserve his energy. There is also the question of his motivation to win the race that's always eluded him: the 1,500-meter speedskate. Davis has come up with silver twice, losing in heartbreaking fashion both times.
But following a first-place finish at the United States trials in the event, Davis told D'Amato he was motivated to finally get over the hump:
Gold would be the big dream come true in the 1,500 meters race. I love that race so much because when I was a junior it was the first junior world race I won. I got my first international prize money and my first international ranking in the 1,500. I've always kind of been the favorite to win it but somehow, some way it evades me at the Olympics. It just gives me that much more motivation.
Couched under that guise, Davis' performance in the 500-meter should not cause any worry. While his high profile within the United States skating community means most casuals expect him to win every race, that was never going to be the case here. His purpose in taking the track on Monday was to get his legs loose and adjust to the ice with a competitive warmup run.
Whether his appearance helps or hurts remains to be seen. History is definitely on Davis' side, though. He followed a similar pattern in Vancouver, withdrawing in the 500-meter event after the first run before capturing a gold in the 1,000 meters and silver in the 1,500 meters.
Given that he holds the world record in both longer events and has been embracing his status as a star of these Olympics, Davis still seems a good bet to add to his medal collection. It just won't be happening in the 500-meter event.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: