Davis Makes Olympic History

Shani Davis knew what he was doing.

Davis became the first black to win an individual gold medal in Winter Olympic history Saturday, capturing the men's 1,000-meter speedskating race. Joey Cheek made it a 1-2 American finish, adding a silver to his victory in the 500.

"I'm one of a kind," Davis said, fully aware of how much he stands out in the mostly all-white sport.

Davis was No. 1 on this day, vindicating his decision to skip a new team event so he could focus on his individual races—even if it drew racially charged messages to his personal Web site, "people saying they hoped I would fall, break my leg, using the n-word."

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Chad Hedrick, skating the weakest of his individual events, put up an early time that stood until Davis bested it in the 19th of 21 pairs with a clocking of 1 minute, 8.89 seconds.

Four other skaters passed Hedrick as well, leaving the Texan in sixth place—still an impressive showing considering he was skating the 1,000 for only the seventh time in his career.

It wasn't good enough for the outspoken Hedrick.

"Once Shani beat me, I didn't care if I got a bronze," he said. "I'm here to win. It's all or nothing."

Erben Wennemars of the Netherlands captured the bronze.

Davis came under scrutiny for skipping the team pursuit—especially when the Hedrick-led squad was knocked out in the quarterfinals, doomed by a slow skater who might not have been on the ice if Davis was available.

But Davis, world record holder in the 1,000, wanted to focus on his signature event. It certainly paid off, giving the U.S. men their third straight gold medal in the individual events at the Olympic oval.

After crossing the line and spotting his time, the first guy to break 1:09 on the slow Turin ice, Davis thrust his right fist in the air. As he coasted along the back straightaway, he raised both arms toward the roof of the Olympic oval, then put his hands on his head in obvious relief.

There were still two more pairs to go—four skaters, all capable of knocking him out.

Cheek went in the next group and came the closest, fading a bit at the end for a time of 1:09.16. Five days earlier, he dominated the shortest race on the schedule and donated his $25,000 bonus to a charity run by speedskating icon Johann Olav Koss.

This time, he'll hand over a $15,000 check to Koss. Dutch stars Wennemars and Jan Bos went in the final pair, but neither caught the Americans. Wennemars grabbed the bronze in 1:09.32, with Bos another tenth of a second behind, but only good enough for fifth.

"I'm just very happy about my race," Davis said. "More than anything, the things I trained for, I was right about."

Davis and Hedrick were the most intriguing figures on the ice, and they'll be in the spotlight again when they face off Tuesday in the 1,500.

Davis has dominated the 1,000 on the World Cup circuit and skated the fastest time ever last November in Salt Lake City. Hedrick is dominant at the longer distances, but decided to skate the 1,000 at Turin in hopes of challenging Eric Heiden's record of five gold medals at one Winter Olympics.

Hedrick passed the first test with a dominating win in the 5,000, but his hopes of picking up a medal in team pursuit were essentially dashed when Davis decided not to skate. The U.S. was upset by the Italians in the quarterfinals, even though Hedrick was clearly the strongest skater on the ice.

Asked after the 1,000 if he was happy for Davis, Hedrick replied pointedly:

"I'm happy for Joey."

Davis showed no immediate emotion after the last two skaters failed to beat his time. He was cooling down in the warmup lane, skating slowly with his arms behind his back.

Finally, he smiled and waved to the crowd, picking up a stuffed bear that a fan tossed on the ice. As he came to the other end of the rink, Davis found Wennemars waiting. The two rivals gave each other a big hug in front of the orange-clad, predominantly Dutch crowd, prompting the biggest cheer of the night.

Davis then donned a Chicago White Sox cap—a tribute to his hometown, specifically the South Side. He grew up there always wanting to skate, shrugging off friends who wondered why a black kid growing up in the city of Michael Jordan and Da Bears would want to don a tight-fitting suit and compete with a bunch of white dudes.

"Michael Jordan's sport is done everywhere in the world," Davis explained. "You can only do my sport in select places of the world. Maybe I can be the Michael Jordan of speedskating."

His choice of sports wouldn't be last time he bucked the norm.

Davis and his mother, Cherie, have engaged in a long-running feud with U.S. Speedskating—even refusing to allow his biography to be displayed on the group's Web site. Davis seemed to be doing his own thing in Turin, avoiding the media and the rest of the team.

"If he feels it's him against the rest of the world, then it's him who pitted himself against the world," American teammate Casey FitzRandolph said.

Before the 1,000, there was talk Davis would skip the mandatory news conference for medalists—even if he won. His agents scurried into action, and Davis showed up right on schedule.

In fact, he had to be dragged away for a mandatory trip to doping control, holding court on the podium while hemmed in by dozens of reporters—long after the official news conference was over.

"I'm a different type of person," Davis said. "I have a different charisma. A lot of people don't understand me."

Davis said he's got a businesslike relationship with Hedrick—nothing more, nothing less.

"I haven't really witnessed any drama," Davis said. "We stay at the same duplex. He's on the top floor. I'm on the first floor. I mind my business and he minds his business."

Vonetta Flowers became the first black to win Winter Olympics gold at the Salt Lake City Games four years ago. She was a pusher on the two-woman bobsled team, someone who helps get the machine going and hops along for the ride.

Davis won this gold entirely on his own.

"It showed that all the hard work and all the sacrifice paid off," he said. "Kids in general, if you put your mind to it and you believe it, you can achieve it."

"You cannot give up—even if the road is a tough road."

In related developments:

  • The road to the men's hockey quarterfinals got a little bumpier for the United States.

    Atlanta Thrashers teammates Marian Hossa and Peter Bondra sandwiched goals around one by Brian Rolston to give Slovakia a 2-1 victory over the United States on Saturday night.

    Slovakia (3-0) strengthened its first-place hold in the Olympics Group B, moving two points ahead of Russia and Sweden and three in front of the Americans (1-1-1). The top four in the six-team group move on to the quarterfinals. Each team, including Latvia and Kazakhstan at the bottom, has two preliminary games remaining.

    While the United States held a 30-21 shots advantage, the Americans were hurt by many shots that either sailed off the mark or were blocked before reaching goalie Peter Budaj.

    Bondra snapped a 1-1 tie and handed further disappointment to the U.S. women's hockey team that watched from the stands one night after their upset loss to Sweden in the semifinals.

    After defenseman Chris Chelios fell down behind the U.S. goal, Miroslav Satan took the puck and quickly passed out front to Bondra, who was surrounded by four American players. No matter, as he quickly found a spot between Rick DiPietro's pads to make it 2-1 just 1:48 into the third period.

    The United States nearly got even while short-handed around the 7-minute mark. Jason Blake skated in alone but struck the crossbar, and Erik Cole was denied by Budaj's stick on a 3-on-2 rush.

  • With Bode Miller out of contention, Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway outran the field Saturday to successfully defend his Olympic super-G title and win his record eighth Alpine medal.

    The 34-year-old veteran, who was unable to defend his Olympic combined title after hurting his knee in the downhill, won in 1 minute, 30.65 seconds, 0.13 ahead of Hermann Maier.

    Ambrosi Hoffmann of Switzerland took the bronze, 0.33 back.

  • Croatia's Janica Kostelic also defended her Olympic title, winning the women's super-G title.

    It was Aamodt's third Olympic super-G title. He also won at the 1992 Albertville Games. He already held the record for Olympic Alpine medals, but increased his tally to eight, four of them gold. He is also the first man to win Olympic gold in the same discipline three times.

    There were nine medals on the line Saturday.

  • Russian cross-country skiers underscored their country's dominance in the women's 4x5-kilometer relay as light snow fell on the course at Pragelato. Germany was second and host nation Italy won bronze.

    Russia or the Soviet Union have won five of the last six Olympic women's relay events.

  • Kati Wilhelm of Germany made light of the tough conditions, winning the women's 10-kilometer biathlon pursuit by such a large margin she had time to grab a German flag and wave it as she crossed the finish line in 36:43.6, ahead of teammate Martina Glagow. Albina Akhatova was third.

    Wilhelm's dominant victory came in the first race since Olga Pyleva of Russia was tossed out of the Turin Games and banned from competition for two years for doping.

    Pyleva, who also was stripped of the silver she won in the 15K, was the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the pursuit, having edged Wilhelm at the Salt Lake City Games.

  • In the cross-country relay, Evgenia Medvedeva-Abruzova made up a 12.5-second deficit to push past Claudia Kuenzel of Germany in the last leg after taking over from Julija Tchepalova.

    "I must say when I was watching the first and second legs I thought in the very best case we could hope for third place," Medvedeva-Abruzova said. "At the handover, I realized she was already in third place. We made eye contact and she gave me all her force, and then I gave all my force."

  • In the men's 12.5km biathlon pursuit, Vincent Defrasne sped past Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway in the final straight for victory. Sven Fischer of Germany won bronze.
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