Shani Davis stands at ease in his own skates. Perhaps it’s that comfort level that begins to explain just how he’s become so adept at skating in lanes never measured with him in mind.
As the only African-American member of the U.S. Olympic speedskating team set to compete in the Winter Games in Canada this month, the two-time Olympian has not only broken down barriers, he’s erected new world standards along the way.
During the Italy Games of 2006, the 27-year-old Chicago native became the first black athlete to win gold in an individual winter sport (1000-meter) and only the fifth such medalist in the Game’s history. The eight-time world record setter— three records are current— also snared a silver in the 1500-meter in Turin.
Not surprising, considering since lacing up his skates at just two-years-old, the 6-2, 190 pound speedster has always appeared on the fast track. By age three, leery rink guards were endlessly warning him to slow down for fear he was moving a bit too fast for everyone else.
WATCH SHANI DAVIS PROFILED ON NIGHTLY NEWS IN 2006
That’s not to imply the sport itself has been quick or eager to embrace one of its would-be prodigies. Despite excelling in both long and short-track events — a combination virtually unheard of — Davis has seemed to face resistance at every turn.
“You work so hard to get to a certain place, but there are so many barriers that shouldn’t be there,” Davis once told Ebony Magazine. “I wish I was able to come out of the Olympics a little less tainted. I don’t like knowing that to make it, you have to sell your soul.”
Even his defining moment in ‘06 came at a price. Davis was vilified for dropping out of a team event at the last minute, essentially costing the U.S. any chance it had of medaling. Truth be told, he had gone on record weeks earlier in asserting he would concentrate on his regular events, and not participate in any he’d never skated before.
Yet the ‘is Shani just another angry black man’ questions grew as pronounced as his accomplishments. To this day, he isn’t featured as an official member of the national team based on a litany of disagreements with program officials who once went so far as to strip him of much of his amateur funding.
“I told him, ‘You just skate, I’ll do all the fighting,’” mom and longtime manager Cherie Davis told Ebony. “That’s what we’ve done.”
And it’s worked — Davis stands as a testament to blacks everywhere about the power of perseverance. But the blows have been mighty.
“I’m the Jack Johnson of speedskating,” said Davis to Ebony, comparing himself to the first black heavyweight boxing champ. “He didn’t let anything keep him down. Whatever people put in front of me, I am strong enough, talented and dedicated enough to overcome it.”
Watch Davis compete for the gold in the 5000m final in Vancouver here.
WATCH SHANI DAVIS TALK ABOUT BEING AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WINTER OLYMPIAN ON ‘THE TODAY SHOW’ HERE: