No three-peat for US speedskater Shani Davis
By PAUL NEWBERRY | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: February 12, 2014
SOCHI, Russia — For the Dutch, another gold medal at the speedskating oval.
For Shani Davis, a stunning defeat.
Davis’ shot at Olympic history ended Wednesday at Adler Arena when Stefan Groothuis won gold for the Netherlands in the 1,000 meters, dashing the American’s hopes of becoming the first male speedskater to capture the same event at three straight Olympics.
After Davis completed the first full lap of the 2 ½-lap race, it was clear his reign was over. He crossed the line more than seventh-tenths of a second behind Groothuis’ winning time of 1 minute, 8.39 seconds.
“I just had a misfortunate race,” Davis said. “I have to live with this the rest of my life.”
On the cool-down lap from a performance that would leave him in eighth place, Davis simply stared at the ice — hood down, skates far apart. When the final pair was done, he went over to Groothuis and gave him a congratulatory pat on the back.
Groothuis, who has struggled with depression and once contemplated suicide, earned the fourth gold medal in five speedskating events for the Dutch at these Winter Games. At 32, he became the oldest gold medalist ever in the 1,000, sparking another orange-clad celebration on the infield.
“This is so unreal,” he said. “I thought Shani was going to better me.”
For good measure, 500 champion Michel Mulder took the bronze, giving the Netherlands 10 out of a possible 15 medals overall through the first five events — a dominating performance that sets them up to crush the record for most speedskating medals by a country at a single Olympics. East Germany captured 13 at the 1988 Calgary Games.
The Dutch should breeze past that mark with seven events remaining, including some of their strongest races.
Canada’s Denny Morrison took the silver in 1:08.43. He wasn’t even scheduled to compete in the event, but got in when a teammate gave up his spot.
Mulder was third in 1:08.74, with his twin brother Ronald cheering him on from the stands.
This was a thrilling moment for Groothuis. There have been plenty of low points along the way, too.
He recently discussed how close he came to killing himself with the Dutch national broadcaster NOS.
“I think I was pretty close, and that is pretty shocking to say,” he said. “Everyone can create hell in his head. When he gets those kinds of thoughts, everything turns black. Blacker than black.”
Davis’ time was 1:09.12 — a bitter disappointment for an American team that came to Sochi with high hopes but has yet to earn a spot on the podium. Brian Hansen of Glenview, Ill., was ninth and said afterward that he was battling an illness. Joey Mantia of Ocala, Fla., settled for 15th and Jonathan Garcia of Houston was 28th.
Davis has a shot at redemption in the 1,500, another of the races he calls “my babies.” He earned silver in that event at the last two Olympics and would love nothing more than to make it a gold after what happened Wednesday.
“Now I have to figure out how to prepare myself the best I can for that 1,500 race,” he said. “Since one door closed, hopefully another one opens and I’m able to step in there.”
Davis was attempting to become only the third speedskater to three-peat in an event. Bonnie Blair of the U.S. won the women’s 500 at Calgary, Albertville and Lillehammer, while Germany’s Claudia Pechstein took gold in the 5,000 at Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City.
Blair and Pechstein remain alone in that select group.
At age 31, Davis simply didn’t have the speed to match Groothuis, even though the Dutchman is a year older.
The Chicago native skated in the 18th of 20 pairings, knowing the time he needed to beat. Groothuis, who went two groups earlier, could only watch as Davis spit on the ice, raised his left hand toward the ceiling and patted his chest with his right, trying to envision another gold-medal performance.
Davis was just slightly off the pace at the 200 split — a quicker start, actually, than he expected — but he fell further and further back from there. At the 600 mark, he was 0.37 behind Groothuis’ time and had no chance of making that up over the final lap. With his left arm slipping off his back, a sign he was tiring, Davis labored across the line with only the seventh-fastest time to that point.
Forget the gold. His medal chances were done.
“It might have thrown me off that I opened so fast,” Davis said. “I wasn’t able to settle in and skate the way I normally would. I have struggled with that in the past, but it was something I never thought would happen under these circumstances.”
One more guy picked off Davis in the last two groups, and that was it.
No history in Sochi.