Davis Makes Olympic History

Shani Davis of the United States during the men's 1000 meter speedskating race at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 18. Davis won the gold medal.
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."