Sunday, February 19, 2006


RAY McNULTY: Shani Davis puts self above team
Scripps Howard News ServiceLast updated: February 17th, 2006 02:35 PM (PST)TURIN, Italy (SH) - Is it OK for an American to root against an American?
Because I want to.
I want American speedskater Shani Davis to lose Saturday in the Olympic men's 1,000-meter race - and lose badly.
He's behaving like a selfish, me-first jerk isn't.
Davis, the reigning world all-around champion, had a chance to help the United States win a gold medal Wednesday in the team-pursuit competition. He had a chance to help his teammate, Chad Hedrick, chase history. He had a chance to embrace the Olympic spirit and put the team ahead of himself.
He had more than a chance, really. He had an obligation.
And he shrunk from it.
After failing to medal in the 5,000-meter race last Saturday, after watching Hedrick skate to Olympic gold, Davis turned his back on his U.S. teammates and went his own way.
He deserted. He has made these Winter Games all about him. He has become the Terrell Owens of his sport.
Rather than skate for the U.S. in the team-pursuit races, he withdrew, saying he wanted to focus his energy and efforts on the 1,000-meter - his best event.
"I didn't come here to skate the team pursuit," Davis said at the time. "I've been training all year for the 1,000-meter. I want to give myself the best opportunity in the 1,000-meter. Skating the pursuit would take away from that. It's not a difficult decision."
It should have been a no-brainer.
He's here to skate for his country, which is supposed to be an honor, even a privilege. He should've skated for his country. He should've been a team player.
But, clearly, he isn't.
"It's my career," said Davis, 23, who grew up on the tough streets of Chicago's South Side. "I could care less what people say about me."
Then he won't mind me saying this: He's a disgrace to the uniform.
Davis might be a terrific skater, but he's a lousy teammate. He's a lone wolf. He's not exactly somebody you want in your foxhole.
It's bad enough that Davis, who is striving to become the first black competitor to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics, put his pursuit of personal glory above the success of the team. But he did something every bit as deplorable. He knowingly, maybe intentionally, let down a teammate.
"There can be only one No. 1," he recently told a Chicago newspaper.
He wants it to be him.
And, please, for those of you who might disagree, let's keep race out of it.
The fact that Davis is black is irrelevent.
Hedrick came to Italy with a believable chance to become Eric Heiden, the American speedskating legend who won five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Just to put that in perspective: Heiden was Mark Spitz - on frozen water. He was unbeatable on ice. And if it hadn't been for Herb Brooks and his lovable U.S. hockey team, which pulled off a miraculous upset over the Soviet Union and went on to win an unimaginable gold medal, Heiden would've been the face of those Olympics.
Hedrick's quest was to share Olympus with such a skating god. But because the team-pursuit event was added to the Winter Olympics this year, he needed help to get there. He needed Davis to skate with him in the team pursuit.
"I'd like him to be in it because it would be a pretty sure gold medal, so it's tough to swallow," the 28-year-old Texan said after Davis backed out. "You would have the two best skaters in the world on the same team."
Davis, however, refused to skate. And the Hedrick-led U.S. team failed to medal, losing to eventual-champion Italy in the quarterfinals.
Afterward, Hedrick, a class act, said there was no one to blame. But he was wrong. And everyone knows it.
Even Heiden.
In an interview with NBC's Olympic Web site, Heiden tried to be diplomatic, saying Davis' dilemma was a "tough call." But he also said, given the same situation, he probably would've skated in the team pursuit.
"I think it would've been very easy to participate and come back well-rested for the 1,000-meter, and maybe even use that race as training," Heiden told, later adding, "I can't imagine that racing on Wednesday, only one round, would limit his ability to race in the 1,000-meter on Saturday. That's a long time. Physically, I think he was more than capable of doing both. And he missed a great opportunity to test the ice at race speed."
Davis missed more than that.
He missed a chance to be a team player, to selflessly help Hedrick do something special, to endear himself to America, which loves to root for the good guy.
Now, no matter what happens today, Davis will come away from these Olympics as just another self-absorbed, all-about-me athlete who doesn't get it.
I hope he doesn't get a medal, either.
Ray McNulty is sports columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers, The Stuart News, Fort Pierce Tribune and Vero Beach Press Journal. Contact, or on the Web at
Originally published: February 17th, 2006 02:35 PM (PST)

No comments: