SOCHI, Russia — The man himself wasn’t shocked even if everybody else was — except maybe for his Dutch rivals. “I’m very in tune with reality,” Shani Davis said.
If the clock says you’re eighth, then you’re eighth. Even if you’re the two-time Olympic champion at the distance. Even if you’re the world record-holder. Even if you’ve posted the 10 fastest times at sea level.
“I really just wasn’t fast enough today,” Davis acknowledged after he’d finished behind three Dutchmen, two Germans, one Kazakh and one extravagantly exuberant Canadian in Wednesday’s 1,000 meters at Adler Arena.
So he’ll look at the film for a reason why and he’ll turn the page and he’ll get ready for his next chance in Saturday’s 1,500, where Davis has won a couple of silver medals at the last two Games. “I’ll just have to get over it quick, man.”
It was another lost night for the Americans, who haven’t come close to the podium in five races. If they also come up empty in Thursday’s women’s 1,000, where Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe are penciled in to go 1-2, it’s likely that it’ll be a lost Games for the US speedskaters, who figured to win seven medals here. Meanwhile, it’s been an Orange Crush by the Black Sea, with the Dutch grabbing everything in sight, 10 medals in five races with seven more to go.
They’d already swept the men’s 5,000 and 500, won the women’s 3,000 and picked up a bronze in the 500. This time it was Stefan Groothuis and Michel Mulder going 1-3 with Denny Morrison as the planet’s happiest Canuck in between.
Morrison, the first man from the Great White North to medal in the event since Gaetan Boucher won it in 1984, wasn’t even supposed to be on the starting line. He’d fallen down in the 1,000 at the trials and when teammate Gilmore Junio texted him offering up his spot, Morrison thought it was a prank. “I just saw the Russian number,” he said, “and thought maybe someone had stole his phone.”
Junio’s reasoning was simple. Canada needed a medal and Morrison had a better chance of getting one. The Americans had no one better than Davis. He’d been the best man in the world at 2½ laps for the better part of three quadrennia and all but unbeatable this season. Wednesday was supposed to be about history.
No male speedskater ever had won the same event at three consecutive Games, nor had any US men’s athlete in any winter sport. The history part, Davis said, would have been a bonus. “It wasn’t the thing I was looking to do,” he said later. “If I win the race and make history that’s great, but first and foremost I wanted to win the race. I wanted to win the gold medal and if I did that and made history, that’s wonderful. But today I wasn’t able to do it, so I’m pretty sad. Not about making history, but about winning a medal.”
Davis didn’t have the fastest opener, but that wasn’t the problem. It was the lap time that killed him. When he saw his split, he knew he wouldn’t win. Still, nobody figured that he’d be eighth, the worst placement by the top US skater since 1992.
“This one hurts me a lot but kudos to the people who were able to go out there and achieve their dreams,” said Davis. “It’s a great feeling. I’m aware of it. I’m going to look for the feeling in the 1,500.”
The 1,500, known in the sport as “The Race of Kings,” is a fierce test of wind and will. Only the immortals — Finland’s Clas Thunberg, Yevgeny Grishin of the Soviet Union and Norway’s Johann Olav Koss — have won it twice at Olympus and most men never get a third chance. Davis has the goods for gold and a couple of days to work on a game plan. “Obviously I need to figure something out,” he said. “If I don’t do it quick, it’s going to be the same thing in the 1,500.”
If the feeling isn’t there for him in the metric mile and if the US women, who’ve won all four of the World Cup races, come up empty in the 1,000, then the autopsy begins. How did a team that earned 28 medals on the Cup circuit, a dozen of them gold, come up flat at Olympus? Is it their new supersonic skinsuits, designed by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin? Was it their training venues?
The Dutch, who have their own high-tech suits, have analyzed what the Yanks are wearing and aren’t impressed. They’re also puzzled why the Americans, who train at altitude in Utah, would choose an outdoor oval in the Italian ozone in Collalbo to train for an indoor subtropical venue that’s near the water and is just above sea level. Why not opt for Heerenveen, the time-tested indoor sea-level track where the Dutch do their work?
Those are questions for a post-mortem. The Americans aren’t going to change suits now and they can’t go back to camp. What they have is what they’ve brought with them to Putin’s Paradise. The Dutch simply brought a lot more of the right stuff. “There are a lot of people who trained all their lives to win and Groothuis was able to do it today, so I’m very happy for him,” Davis observed. “But I’m disappointed for me.”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.