SOCHI, Russia — Shani Davis wasn’t yet born when Eric Heiden composed his five symphonies in Lake Placid in 1980. He was a toddler when Dan Jansen began his Olympic quest in Sarajevo in 1984. But in this millennium he has become the face of American speedskating around the planet.
“He is one of the most loved foreign skaters,” says Dutch coach Gerard Kemkers. “He’s very well known in the Netherlands. He’s always being asked for photographs and autographs, but in America not so much.”
There was nobody like Davis when he came into the sport, a leggy black guy out of the south side of Chicago who said, perhaps not in jest, he developed his zest for speed by outrunning tougher kids. Davis has been outskating the rest of the world for a decade now and on Wednesday in the 1,000 meters inside Adler Arena he’ll be favored to achieve something that no other speedskater has managed — to win the same event at three consecutive Games.
“People are shooting for me,” says the 31-year-old Davis. “I have the biggest target on my back and people really strive to beat me. That’s all they train and aim for. In the 1,000, I’m the man. My job is to try to defend it.”
No man ever has had to defend the title twice. Heiden, the only man to win all five long-track distances — 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 at the same Games — was two-and-through. Jansen, who competed at four Olympics, won his only gold medal (in the 1,000) in his final race, in 1994.
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