Dominant Davis skates alone

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

RICHMOND, B.C.—He’s one of the most dominant athletes at these Games, an American speed skating machine who won gold and silver medals in Turin and is favoured to win gold here twice.

USA Today called him the most compelling international athlete at the Richmond Olympic Oval this month. Yet you won’t find Shani Davis’s picture in the Team USA media guide or find him on the organization’s website.

“I am a solo entity,” Davis said soon after arriving at the Games. “I don’t skate for U.S. Speedskating and I have no obligation to them.”

Davis feels he doesn’t have obligations to the media, either, declining all interview requests Tuesday, except one with NBC, in advance of Wednesday’s 1,000-metre race.

“He’s got his game face on,” explained Davis’s spokesman, former Olympian Nathaniel Mills.

In some ways, you can’t blame him, since the media has caused him needless trouble in the past.

There was the time he called American TV funny guy Stephen Colbert a jerk. This after Colbert jumped in to sponsor the U.S. team when its primary sponsor, a bank, went under.

Vilified in the States for not having a sense of humour, Davis has since made up with Colbert, even agreeing to a challenge race with the leader of Colbert Nation.

But what happened four years ago hasn’t been as easy to put behind him. In Turin, Davis should have been heralded as the first African-American to win Winter Games gold in an individual event. Instead, he was roasted by much of the American press, labelled a selfish athlete who refused to skate on the pursuit team, where he was supposed to help U.S. star Chad Hedrick complete his self-proclaimed five-medal sweep.

Never mind that Davis wasn’t even eligible to skate the pursuit. The press had its anti-patriotism story and was sticking to it.

The fact Hedrick poured fuel onto the fire and U.S. team officials didn’t go out of their way to defend Davis didn’t help.

Davis and U.S. Speedskating were already miles apart, ever since the organization cut off his funding for refusing to remove his own sponsor’s name from his uniform. That led to Davis, a product of Chicago’s South Side, moving to Calgary to train with the Canadian team in the lead-up to Turin.

Davis’s Canadian welcome lasted just two years, though. Seems officials didn’t think an American should benefit from the Own the Podium program, which pumped extra money into athlete support services.

So he basically went out on his own, training at times with the U.S. short track team, which is almost unheard of, at other times at a facility in Milwaukee, without the single, full-time coach that every other athlete here has. A self-made star, doing things his own way.

His main support comes from his manager, who doubles as his mother, the woman who raised him alone and saw him through the white world of speed skating. Cherie Davis has also been called the Bonnie Lindros of long track, due to her protective approach — and sometimes combative relationship with reporters.

There is one matter not up for debate, however, and that is her son’s ability.

A two-time world champ in the 1,000 and the 1,500, plus a two-time world all-around champ, Davis is the heavy favourite to win gold on Wednesday, and again in Saturday’s 1,500 — he holds the world record in both.

He could become the first American since the legendary Eric Heiden to win two skating golds in one Olympics. Maybe then he’d be able to look back at an Olympics and say he had fun.

“One out of my three,” he told USA Today. “Would be nice.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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