RICHMOND, British Columbia (AP) — If there was any doubt about Shani Davis returning for another Olympics, all it took was another surprise in the 1,500 meters to get him setting his schedule for the next four years.
Denied once again, Davis immediately turned his attention to the 2014 Games in Russia.
“I have to accept it, but I still want to be able to win that race,” Davis said Saturday as his Olympics ended when he settled for silver. “That has been my favorite race since I was a junior, since as far along as I can remember me skating. I always wanted to win that medal.”
Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands got it this time, posting a time the world-record holder couldn’t beat.
At least Davis earned a medal. Fellow American Chad Hedrick was the only skater to hand Davis a loss during the World Cup season, and was supposed to be his main rival at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Instead, a fading Hedrick didn’t even make the podium, slipping to sixth in the final individual event of his groundbreaking inline-to-ice career.
Sound familiar? Four years ago, it was Italy’s Enrico Fabris pulling out gold in the 1,500, while Davis and Hedrick were relegated to silver and bronze.
“It’s the second time in a row that Shani and I have gotten this race stolen from us,” said Hedrick, who plans to retire after the Olympics. “We go in as heavy favorites each time, and it is some special skater every time that comes in.”
Davis ended his Olympics with the same result as the 2006 Turin Games — a gold in the 1,000, a silver in the 1,500.
“I am sure it is going to keep me in the sport,” said the 27-year-old Chicago native, who in Italy became the first African-American athlete to win individual gold at the Winter Games. “It is not a bad thing I love skating.”
If Davis had won the 1,500, he would have definitely taken a long break and might have even considered retirement.
Now, it’s back to work.
“I think I would have felt like I was very complete or very close to being complete,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have quit or not. I love the sport so much, I love the opportunity to compete so much. Personally I don’t think I would have quit if I would have won the race, but maybe I like to think that a little bit because I would have been complete.”
Davis came around the final turn with his mouth open and arms swinging, trying desperately to make up the gap on Tuitert. He finished more than a half-second behind.
“I just couldn’t man up and do it,” Davis said.
Tuitert went in the third pair from the end and put up a time of 1 minute, 45.57 seconds. After a brief celebration, he watched nervously from the infield with Hedrick skating next and Davis capping it off in the final group, both knowing how fast they had to go for gold.
Hedrick got off to a surprisingly strong start, but that may have cost him his usual finishing kick. He knew he was done a few feet from the line, coasting across more than a full second behind in 1:46.69.
“He beat me pretty good,” Hedrick said. “For him to go out there and fight like he did is incredible.”
Davis, who set the world record of 1:41.04 in December in the thin air of Salt Lake City, knew he wouldn’t be able to go nearly that fast at the sea-level conditions of suburban Vancouver. He was only 18-hundredths behind Tuitert with two laps to go, but just couldn’t make up the gap.
“I struggled the whole race,” said Davis, whose finished in 1:46.10. “I could not build enough speed.”
Tuitert held both hands to his head, as if he couldn’t believe his time had stood up to Davis, then grabbed the Dutch flag for a victory lap while his fellow countrymen in the band, Kleintje Pils, belted out their national anthem, “Wilhelmus.”
Havard Bokko of Norway took bronze in 1:46.13.
“It was a monster race for me,” said Tuitert, who came in ranked only fifth on the World Cup circuit at this distance. “Shani has been winning everything, Chad was so good and then I produce this race.
“It all came together in this race.”
Davis scratched his head, looking unsure about what happened. Still, he’s become only the fourth male skater in U.S. history to earn two Olympic golds in long-track speedskating, and he’s counting on at least one more Olympics to add to his total.
After collecting himself, Davis seemed a little more satisfied with his performance, smiling as he coasted around the track, waving to the crowd.
“He is the king of the hill,” Davis said. “He won the king’s race and he has the title of king now. I wish I could have had the title.”
The 33-year-old Hedrick could barely stand upright, gasping for breath and swatting at his legs as if he couldn’t believe they let him down. He had hoped that a surprising bronze in the 1,000 set him up for an even better result in the 1,500, but it wasn’t even close.
Saying again that he has no intention of skating the team pursuit, Davis’ Olympics are over. Hedrick will skate the team event, giving him one last chance to join Eric Heiden as the only American men to win five medals on the big oval.
Heiden’s, of course, were all gold.
“I have no shame,” said Hedrick, who has one gold, one silver and two bronzes in his career. “I left it all out there.”