Shani Davis had a disappointing 1000-meter race in Sochi on Wednesday. Davis entered the 2014 Winter Olympics as the clear favorite to win this race. Instead, Shani Davis came in eighth place, clearly avoiding any medal.
The undefeated, record-breaking, reigning 1000-meter Olympic Champion Shani Davis came in eighth place. This is a position no one expected him to be in.
Skaters everywhere were shocked, having expected to see Shani Davis on the top of his game. Mark Tuitert, a speedskater from the Netherlands, was quoted in a Boston Globe article by John Powers just days before the race: “He is in better form than four years ago. When you look into his eyes you can see he copes better with the pressure.”
Davis skated a time of 1:09.12 minutes. This was the best time of any American who competed, but considering that he is widely regarded as the best 1000-meter skater in the world, letting seven people finish ahead of you is not much of an accomplishment.
Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands took home the gold with a time of 1:08.39. Michel Mulder, also from the Netherlands, won bronze with a time of 1:08.74. Denny Morrison of Canada won the silver, finishing with a time of 1:08.43.
Groothuis himself expected for Shani Davis to win. An article from the Associated Press quoted the Dutchman saying, “This is so unreal, I thought Shani was going to better me.”
Shani Davis had the worst Olympic 1000-meter run of his career on Wednesday, so it is understandable why Groothuis felt uneasy about his lead. Shani Davis owns the world record for the fastest 1000 meters ever skated. He skated it in 1:06.42, nearly two full seconds faster than the time by Groothuis.
So the question we are all left with is, what happened?
Shani kept good strides throughout the race, and his shoulders remained level. He knew this himself. In an ESPN.com article by Wayne Drehs, Shani is quoted as saying, "There's no excuse, man. Nothing physical that went wrong or anything else.”
The strongest point of this race for Davis was the opening. Coming out of the first turn he was only two-hundredths of a second away from the leader’s time. This appeared to be an amazing start for Davis, because he is known for his impressive finishes rather than his beginnings.
Davis is usually weak in the short distances. This is clearly evident in his previous races. In the short, 500-meter event in these Olympics, Davis did not even finish in the top 20. His start in the 1000 meter was perfect by his standards.
At the 600-meter mark, Davis was beginning to appear a bit sluggish and was separated from the leader by nearly four-tenths of a second. As the race progressed, the time differential only continued to grow.
Shani Davis was simply not fast enough. According to the same ESPN article, Davis said, “I just didn't have the speed in the lap and that's something I've always had against my competitors. That's a part of the race I usually shine in. But today for some reason I wasn't able to do it."
The “lap” Davis is referring to was the final one. The thing that has won Davis two consecutive gold medals in the 1000-meter race had been his ability to go at his fastest speeds during the last lap.
Most of the racers had great starts but fell behind when nearing the finish, because they were out of gas. Sung Ching-Yang from Chinese Taipei was so winded that he almost completely stopped skating at the end, putting him a full five seconds behind the leader.
Unfortunately, Shani Davis’ winning trait never kicked in, and he too fell further behind during the final stretch.
After winning gold in this event in the previous two Winter Olympics, Davis was set to make history as the first-ever American Olympian to win one event three consecutive times in the Winter Olympics. The record would have been a great hallmark in the career of Shani Davis.
As for the event's effect on Team USA in Sochi, Shani Davis was a glimmer of hope after a disappointing start for America’s biggest stars.
Possibly the most famous Winter Olympian in the U.S., snowboarder Shaun White dropped one of his events to focus on his halfpipe event, yet finished in fourth, just shy of taking home a medal. Bode Miller failed to medal in the men’s downhill ski. Julia Mancuso failed to medal in women’s downhill.
Filip Bondy from the New York Daily News had some harsh words for the U.S. Olympic stars:
It was Vladimir Putin who first questioned American exceptionalism last September, put that little bug in all our ears…Clearly the Russian leader was right, when it comes to megastar Olympians. America’s most famous athletes are falling like New York snowflakes at these Games, finishing in unexpected placements here in Sochi that are not at all exceptional.
The entire U.S. Olympic team is paying for this loss. The Netherlands took home both the gold and bronze medals in the men’s 1000-meter event.
The Netherlands are in second place in the total medal count with 12. The United States is third (with 12 as well). The U.S. is behind the Netherlands, however, because where the U.S. has one more bronze medal, the Netherlands has one more silver. The Netherlands has 12 medals, all 12 of which have come from speedskating.
If Shani Davis would have just obtained a bronze, the U.S. would be in second place. If he had won silver or gold, the U.S. would have moved into first place and be in the lead for the entire Olympics.
The immediate future could still leave Shani Davis making Olympic history in Sochi. Davis still has the 1500-meter race. Davis has won the silver medal in the 1500 in the two previous Olympics, and to win the gold this year would be a huge boost of confidence for him.
According to Bleacher Report's Tom Weir, “The 1,500 is the most prized medal in speedskating, because it's the event where all of the greatest skaters converge.”
Shani Davis already has the world speedskating record for the 1500 meter, so it is evident that he is fully capable of taking home the gold.
Davis is now 31 years old, the same age as his now-retired former skating team partner Apolo Ohno. But that does not mean that Shani is necessarily calling it quits too. As for looking past these Olympics, Davis told NBCOlympics.com:
There are still many records and milestones I'd like to achieve, in Sochi and beyond, and I'll keep competing so long as the desire is there. Training for speed skating is exhausting, mentally and physically, but the wisdom of age and experience enables me to adapt my training to my circumstances. Funny, I keep reading in the media that Sochi is my last Olympics. That might be more dramatic for storylines, but I wouldn't say that at all. Maybe Sochi will be my last Olympics and maybe it won't.
If you think the 31-year-old Davis is too old and that is why he lost his edge in the 1000 meter, think again. It was simply a bad race. It was less than three months ago that Shani Davis won the qualifiers for the Olympics with a time of 1:07.52. That time is nearly a full second faster than the time that just took home the gold medal.
Shani Davis was the first black athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, the first to win two gold medals, and he can still become the first to obtain three—or maybe even more.