VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES:
The first time Shani Davis won an Olympic gold medal in the 1,000 meters, he skated a victory lap while hugging a teddy bear. On Wednesday night, after becoming the first man to successfully defend his title in the event, Davis held an American flag to his chest, a gesture rich in symbolism.
At the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, Davis became the first African-American to win an individual gold medal, but the feat was tarnished by his internecine sniping with his countryman Chad Hedrick.
So after blazing the corners of the Olympic Oval here, it seemed as if Davis turned one more corner when he took the flag and handed an end to Hedrick, the surprise bronze medalist, to unfurl.
Both wore smiles warm enough to create more puddles on the soft ice. Hedrick’s joy sprang from the unexpectedness of the result; his stronger race is the 1,500 meters, where he is the only skater to defeat Davis this season.
For Davis, the victory validated his controversial decision to skip out on the 500 meters midway through the event Monday, after a lengthy delay caused by a malfunctioning resurfacing machine and a middling first race.
He said at the time that he wanted to save his energy for the 1,000, but there were those who questioned how serious Davis had been about putting forth an Olympian effort in the sprint.
After digging down and producing a searing final 200 to beat Mo Tae-bum, the gold medalist in the 500, Davis had his quiet vindication.
“That last 200 meters was very difficult,” said Davis, who was timed in 1 minute 8.94 seconds. Mo, from South Korea, clocked 1:09.12, which was 0.20 faster than Hedrick, whom he raced in the 16th pairing.
“Maybe skipping the second 500 allowed me to recover,” Davis said, “and I needed all my strength and energy for the last lap of the 1,000.”
Mo earned the medal that again eluded his countryman Lee Kyou-hyuk, who finished ninth in his fifth attempt at an Olympic podium.
“Lee did not really have a good result,” Mo said, “and I am really hurt by that.” He added, “I was slightly disappointed with my result, but I did my best.”
For a long time, it looked as if Mo would earn his second gold. Davis was on a fifth-place pace after 600 meters but made up more than two-tenths of a second on the final few hundred meters. If Davis had waited around to complete the 500, he added, “maybe I’m not a gold medalist right now.”
Of the 38 skaters who entered the event, Davis was one of only two who raced without eyewear, a look befitting his sleek, spare style. He said he did not wear sunglasses because he did not want to worry about losing them — this from a man whose approach to the sport is so meticulous he rarely loses a tenth of a second.
His unadorned face gave the appreciative crowd of 7,000 a clear view of his unadulterated joy after he crossed the finish line and realized he had won. Among the first to congratulate him was Hedrick, who later said: “Hats off to Shani. He skated a great race. This guy is just untouchable in the 1,000.”
Davis, who holds the world record in the 1,000 and came into the race undefeated at the distance this season, said this was his most satisfying win.
“I would say it’s probably No. 1,” Davis said. “It means so much that I was able to defend.” He added, “Once you’ve become a world champion, an Olympic champion, you get this nice thing on your back called a target.”
Davis, who chooses to train apart from the other long-track national team members and does not employ a full-time coach, makes an easy target for criticism. His self-possession can be mistaken for aloofness, which does not always play well in such an insular sport. After Wednesday’s race, he praised the short-track athletes’ coaching staff.
“I like that they embrace me and support me,” Davis said.
It helps that they do not compete against him. One of the more genial skaters away from the oval, Davis turns inward as soon as he steps on the ice. Mo, who was expected to provide Davis with a stiff challenge, said he once asked Davis about his technique on the turns and was told he would not discuss it with a rival.
In the glow of victory, any bad feelings that may have existed seemed to evaporate. Davis ran beside Mo in a victory lap and clasped arms during the flower ceremony with Hedrick, who said: “You see it in our eyes. We just want to have fun. We feel like our parade was rained on a little bit the last time. I hope people will look at us back home and be proud.”