Davis skates to historic gold

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Say what you want about Shani Davis. Call him a trailblazer. Accuse him of selfishness. Snicker at him for being a momma's boy.

Just don't forget this: He's also an Olympic champion.

Davis became the first black to claim an individual gold medal in Winter Olympic history Saturday, winning the 1,000-meter speedskating race and justifying his decision to focus on himself first, his team second.

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 white sport. "I'm a different type of person. I have a different charisma. A lot of people don't understand me."

That much was clear from the racially charged messages to his personal Web site -- "people saying they hoped I would fall, break my leg, using the n-word," he said. Even the great Eric Heiden had some choice words for America's newest gold medalist, regarding his decision to skip the team pursuit.

"He is going his own way," said Heiden, who won five gold medals at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. "He's very different to a lot of speedskaters, and we have to respect that, but he is not a team player."

Maybe not, but the 23-year-old from Chicago's South Side is building a heck of a rivalry with Texan Chad Hedrick.

Hedrick won the first speedskating gold with a dominating performance in the 5,000. Davis got him back in the 1,000, the weakest of Hedrick's individual events. They'll face off again Tuesday in the 1,500 -- an event Davis ruled until Hedrick snatched away the world record.

"I'm not trying to beat Chad," Davis insisted. "I'm trying to beat everyone."

Hedrick, who had only skated the 1,000 a half-dozen times in his career, 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 him in sixth place.

"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."

The testy relationship between the two U.S. stars was apparent after the race. Hedrick didn't even bother congratulating Davis.

"Shani skated fast today," Hedrick said. "That's about all I have to say about that."

Davis came under fire for skipping the team pursuit -- especially when a Hedrick-led squad was knocked out by Italy in the quarterfinals, doomed by a slow skater who might not have been on the ice if Davis was available. The loss denied Hedrick a chance to go after Heiden's record of records, those five golds at Lake Placid.

But Davis, world record holder in the 1,000, wanted to focus on his signature event. And his victory -- a third straight individual triumph for the U.S. men at the Olympic oval -- means that Hedrick's quest would have come up short, even with a gold in the team pursuit.

Skier wins eighth medal

Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway successfully defended the men's super-G title for his record eighth Olympic Alpine medal.

Janica Kostelic defended her championship in the women's combine and became the first woman to win four Olympic Alpine gold medals.

U.S. bobsledders in sixth

Americans Todd Hays and Pavle Jovanovic were in sixth place after the first two runs of the two-man bobsled event.

U.S. men top Germany

Pete Fenson's U.S. curling team beat Germany in nine ends, pulling away to victory with three points in the eighth and boosting its chances of advancing to the medal round.

At 5-2, the Americans are in good position to at least qualify for a tiebreaker at the end of the nine-game round-robin.

Ohno places third

The South Koreans waited four years and ganged up on Apolo Anton Ohno, dropping the American star to an Olympic bronze medal in 1,000-meter short track speedskating.

Ahn Hyun-Soo won his second gold medal of these games and teammate Lee Ho-Suk took the silver.

The bronze gave Ohno a complete set of Olympic medals., with those he won in 2002.

-- The Associated Press

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