Don't Shed Tears for Shani Davis Yet: Speedskating Star Eying 1,500-Meter Glory

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Shani Davis was a decisively beaten seventh in the 1,000 meters
Shani Davis was a decisively beaten seventh in the 1,000 metersMatt Dunham/Associated Press

Yes, it would have been great to see Shani Davis make good on his bid for a three-peat in speedskating's 1,000 meters. But even though it was a bit agonizing to see him finish eighth Wednesday in an event where he holds the world record, there's no reason to feel pity for Davis quite yet.

Davis is in a far better place than Shaun White was when his pursuit of a historic three-peat in snowboard halfpipe unraveled Tuesday night. White's Olympics ended right there and guaranteed his flight home from Sochi will be a long one.

But Davis remains very much alive for the gold medal that he has always wanted most: the 1,500 meters. That chance will arrive on Saturday.

The 1,500 is the most prized medal in speedskating, because it's the event where all of the greatest skaters converge.

As Davis told CBC Sports before this season: "All sprinters can skate it as well as distance guys. Everyone is trying to be king of the mountain on that one."

"King of the Mountain" is indeed the unofficial title that comes with winning the Olympic 1,500, and only three Americans have ever claimed it.

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Derek Parra
Derek ParraMATT DUNHAM/Associated Press

The first was John Shea, way back in 1932. The next was Eric Heiden, whose gold in the 1,500 was the centerpiece of his sweep of all five Olympic races in 1980. And the most recent was Derek Parra, the "Little Big Man" of speedskating who won his 1,500 in grand style at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, setting a world record while also becoming the first Mexican-American to win gold at the Winter Olympics.

Davis would be the first African-American to win the Olympic 1,500, but that's hardly the allure. He's been the first African-American to do so many things in speedskating that it's hardly notable anymore.

But Olympic gold in the 1,500 is the one major accomplishment that has eluded him. He has come tantalizingly close twice, settling for silver at Turin in 2006 and again at Vancouver in 2010.

In 2006 it was Enrico Fabris, skating on his home ice in Italy, who kept the prize out of Davis' reach, edging him by 0.16 of a second. In Vancouver, Holland's Mark Tuitert stole the show, beating Davis by a convincing 0.53.

With all the attention given to Davis' quest for the 1,000 three-peat, it has been largely overlooked that the 31-year-old has been every bit as dominant in the 1,500. His 1,500 world record of 1 minute, 41.04 seconds has stood since December 2009, but that hardly tells the story of how good he's been. 

He set his first world record at that distance in January 2005, then reclaimed it from Chad Hedrick in March 2006. A year later he lowered it by a whopping 0.36.

Canada's Denny Morrison, the silver medalist Tuesday behind Holland's Stefan Groothuis, took away the record in 2008. But Davis grabbed it back in March 2009 at 1:41.80 and then, nine months later, improved that mark by a stupefying 0.76.

"That would be a big dream come true for me, to be able to win a gold medal in the 1,500," Davis told The Boston Globe during the U.S. Olympic trials at Salt Lake City's long-track oval, where he has turned in three of his world-record performances. “I love that race so much because when I was a junior skater the first race I won was the 1,500.”

Davis has been his typical outstanding self during the World Cup season. He won three of his four races in the 1,000, and in the 1,500 he had one victory and another second-place finish.

But it now appears he'll have plenty of work to do if he is to regain his gold-medal form by Saturday after looking a little sluggish on Sochi's ice.

Davis typically starts slow and then finishes fast, but he never really ignited in the 1,000.

Shani Davis readily admitted "There's no excuse" for his poor showing in the 1,000
Shani Davis readily admitted "There's no excuse" for his poor showing in the 1,000Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

"There's no excuse," Davis told reporters afterward, via Paul Myerberg of USA Today. "I just didn't have the speed I've always had. I felt fast in the open, but after that, I don't know. I have to look at the film and see. I'm not shocked. I'm very in tune with reality. But I'm disappointed."

His greatest gift is gliding through the curves with seeming ease while building speed for the next straightaway, but Davis seemed to be missing something there on Wednesday, as his 1:09.12 clocking was 0.73 behind Groothuis' winning time.

To win on Saturday, Davis also will have to overcome the Dutch, who continue to steamroll through the speedskating events. Groothuis' gold was Holland's fourth in five events, and the Dutch will field another strong group Saturday.

But it would be a mistake to give up on Davis. The 1,500 likely will be his Olympic farewell, and Davis won't waste his chance to walk away as a winner.

Tom Weir has covered eight Winter Olympics as a columnist and reporter for USA Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @TomWeirSports.

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