Shani Davis should have carried the flag. His Twitter rant complicated his case.

Shani Davis should have carried the flag. His Twitter rant complicated his case.
Shani Davis skips opening ceremony after losing coin toss – AP News
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(CNN)The Winter Olympics has just started, and we already have our first controversy — and it’s over who carried the US flag in the opening ceremony.

Davis often had a standoffish relationship with the American media, which he clearly saw (and not without justification) as a bunch of speedskating-ignorant folks who showed up every four years to pester him about his amazing journey but were nowhere to be found the rest of the time. He always seemed more comfortable around the Dutch, who share a year-after-year passion for the sport that just can’t be found in America (and is on display again in Pyeongchang, where they’ve won the first four events after a dominating performance at Sochi four years ago ).

I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018 pic.twitter.com/dsmTtNkhJs

Here’s the problem facing Shani Davis: He’s not fast enough any more to skate away from this.

He used to be, winning two gold and two silver speedskating medals in the Olympics, winning 11 titles at World Championships, breaking world records nine times, breaking barriers in a sport as white as the ice it races on. But he’s 35 now, and the engine doesn’t rev like it used to when he hits the gas.

Despite Davis’ lone-wolf approach, he’s been described as a trusted friend and valued mentor by his fellow skaters. Yes, he feuded with another American star, Chad Hedrick, at the 2006 Turin Olympics, infamously storming out of the interview room after they had claimed silver and bronze in the 1,500 meters. But there were no signs of discord when they skated together in Vancouver four years later. Hedrick, now retired, was among those who tweeted his support to Davis after the flag flap.

It didn’t Tuesday in the 1,500 meters, blazing to a quick opening 300 and then, nothing. His time of 1:46.74 was nearly six seconds slower than the world record that he set in 2009 and held until last December. He finished 19th in a field of 35. In his previous three Olympic races at this distance, he was second, second and 11th.

It wasn’t clear if Davis actually wrote the tweet. Maybe it was crafted by one of his handlers, or perhaps his outspoken mother, Cherie. But it was his account, verified and all, and Davis made no attempt to clear things up. Instead, he went into lockdown mode — blowing off the media when he walked through the mixed zone after practices and blocking a bunch of journalists (this one included) from seeing his future posts on Twitter.

“The ice was super fast,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t.”

Skating only? For Shani Davis, it’s never that easy

And that’s a problem. Americans are obsessed with winning – I think we all can admit that – and glistening medals deflect biting criticism, or at least mute it. You get a pass, or more of one, if you stand on the podium and the flag is raised.

One can’t help but wonder if Davis’ single-minded approach — as admirable as it may be — squandered a golden chance to expand speedskating’s limited appeal in the U.S. Then again, there are two other African-American speedskaters on this year’s team, an unprecedented surge in diversity that was no doubt influenced by Davis’ determination to leave his mark on a mostly white sport.

Shani Davis slides back to 19th place in Olympic 1500-meter speedskating race

Finish 19th, get blown away by the Dutch, fade badly in the back half of the race, and the microscopes come out, rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly. The knives come out.

“It’s hard to stay on the top forever,” said Belgium’s Bart Swings, who went in the same pair with Davis and beat him to the finish by more than a full second over 1,500 meters — a rout in speedskating terms. “Shani had an incredibly high level. I think with his highest level, he could still win here. But, of course, he’s getting on in age now.”
Shani Davis skips opening ceremony after losing coin toss - AP News
Shani Davis skips opening ceremony after losing coin toss – AP News

Davis has never been a warm, fuzzy character. He’s never shied from controversy, never been afraid to speak his mind, getting into a public spat with a teammate over the relay in 2006, splitting with the sport’s national governing body and training on his own, ripping the U.S. Olympic Committee for a perceived lack of support, blaming suit manufacturer Under Armour for the team’s poor performance in Sochi.

Jahiem Taylor, 7th grader at Add B. Anderson School asks about police brutality at a panel discussion organized by the National Black Police Association – Greater Philadelphia Chapter. “We’re here at the Add B. Anderson School with hopes to build on the work our organization and many in the …

And that’s part of his allure, part of his complexity – a courage of his convictions, a certain nobility in his defiance, no matter how misguided the cause may seem.

Davis never appeared the least bit eager to cash in his groundbreaking achievements for fame and glory, or what passes for fame and glory by speedskating’s more modest standards. He preferred the road less traveled, training on his own and doing things his way, estranged from the U.S. national team.

Chloe Kim wins gold with historic performance

But he was winning then. He’s not now, which made extricating himself from his current hole harder even before he grabbed a shovel and kept digging.

This is his fifth Olympic team – he left in 2002 before competing – and he no doubt reasoned that warranted the honor of carrying the U.S. flag at Opening Ceremony. Many of his U.S. teammates agreed, and it came down to him and luger Erin Hamlin in the pre-Games vote among athlete representatives from each of the eight winter sports federations.

Actually, it looks like a potential Sochi do-over for Davis and all the U.S. skaters, who performed abysmally in Russia (not entirely their fault ) and haven’t finished higher than fifth yet in South Korea.
The first controversy of the Winter Olympics -- and it's over the flag
The first controversy of the Winter Olympics — and it’s over the flag

2018 Winter Olympics: Who is Shani Davis?

The rules, published beforehand, were clear: Any ties would be broken by a coin flip.

Shani Davis refuses to answer questions on flag-bearer tweet after speedskating 1500 race
Shani Davis refuses to answer questions on flag-bearer tweet after speedskating 1500 race

That Didn’t Take Long: #BlackLivesMatter Goes to the Olympics

The coin picked Hamlin, and Davis’ verified Twitter account soon was recounting his resume and suggesting that Team USA “dishonorably tossed a coin.” It added the hashtag: #BlackHistoryMonth.

“Before we started this interview, (we said) we’re sticking only to skating questions,” Davis said. “I would like to continue to focus on skating-only questions.”

The afternoon of Opening Ceremony, there was word he would speak after a training session at the Gangneung Oval to clarify his radioactive tweet. Media was told to wait at the end of a hallway underneath the vast arena, and Davis would stop there.

Davis is more optimistic about his chances, though there’s nothing to suggest in his current form that he can contend for a medal.

He turned the corner into the hallway … and blew past notebooks and tape recorders on the way to the bus. “Shani’s got training,” a handler said, forgetting, apparently, that he had just finished training.

“Whether you are the flagbearer or not,” Hedrick wrote, “you will go down as one of the best Winter Olympians in US history.”

Where he was in such a hurry to get, we don’t know. We do know where he wasn’t going: Opening Ceremony.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Shani Davis labored across the line, gulping for air, a shell of what he once was in a clapskate.

His handlers explained that he never intended to attend unless, of course, he had been selected flagbearer. It’s an empty excuse. Opening Ceremony can be a long night on your feet for athletes, but in recent Games organizers have provided a solution: You walk into the stadium, take a lap with your teammates around the infield, soak up the experience and then quietly exit through the back – get on a bus and you’re back at the village 15 minutes later.

Tuesday, after finishing 19th in the 1,500 meters, Davis did stop in front of a gaggle of journalists. A U.S. media relations officer stated the ground rules: Skating questions only.

After a few obligatory questions about his race, Davis was asked if he meant any disrespect toward Hamlin with his tweet. “Before we started this interview, we’re sticking to skating only questions,” he replied. “I’d like to continue focusing on skating questions.”

No matter what happens in South Korea, Davis’ legacy on the ice is secure.

(Except he hadn’t with Dutch media, saying in an interview: “You know, once every four years, my fifth Olympics, I thought it would be really special to hold the flag. I guess the USOC and the other people thought differently.”)

The questions returned to skating. Davis spoke about how “I’ve seen people create Olympic magic in the 1,500 who have never even won World Cups before” and “it’s just that I didn’t have the snap and drive” and “I really hope this got all the cobwebs out and I can refocus.”

He has one race left, the 1,000 meters on Feb. 23. The distance suits him better, but it’s a long way from 19th place in a race just 30 seconds longer to an Olympic medals podium. He knows that, too.

“There are no excuses for not performing on the ice,” Davis said, “except for that I just wasn’t strong enough to compete with the high, top-level guys here.”

The media officer asked if there were any further questions. There was one: Why didn’t he want to talk about anything else, why insist on discussing skating only given the past week?

“I can go?” Davis asked, turning to the media officer and walking away briskly.

SDSU outscores the Spartans 65-30 over the final 25 minutes to improve to 3-1 in the Mountain West. 

SDSU outscores the Spartans 65-30 over the final 25 minutes to improve to 3-1 in the Mountain West. 

SDSU outscores the Spartans 65-30 over the final 25 minutes to improve to 3-1 in the Mountain West. 

SDSU outscores the Spartans 65-30 over the final 25 minutes to improve to 3-1 in the Mountain West. 

SDSU’s junior guard struggled with not starting but has found peace with it.

SDSU’s junior guard struggled with not starting but has found peace with it.

The Aztecs defeated Air Force 28-24 in the teams’ Mountain West opener Saturday night. (courtesy of goaztecs.com)

The Aztecs defeated Air Force 28-24 in the teams’ Mountain West opener Saturday night. (courtesy of goaztecs.com)

He used to be, winning two gold and two silver speedskating medals in the Olympics, winning 11 titles at World Championships, breaking world records nine times, breaking barriers in a sport as white as…


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