Not unusually, Shani Davis spent most of Wednesday alone in his room, except for a morning jog. He studied his journals and race plan. Again he endeavored to do what no one had. Again he internalized any pressures and doubts, trusting only himself to escape them.
Later, gliding along the Richmond Olympic Oval in the minutes before the 1,000-meter race that could redefine his grip on history, he was once more effectively alone, as the Chicago native likes it and unapologetically means it to be.
Hands on hips, Davis snapped off a yawn. Then he drifted along the ice. The party, after all, was still a couple hours away.
Davis recaptured a gold medal Wednesday, using a turbo thrust on his final lap to finish with a time of 1:08.94, making him the first speedskater to win the 1,000-meter event twice. Then he finally cut loose, punching the air with the American flag in his hand on the podium, lingering on the infield to celebrate even as only a smattering of fans remained.
“It’s my moment, it’s my party,” he said. “Like the girl says she can cry if she wants to -- I can party if I want to. It’s my party, I can celebrate, I can dance, I can do whatever I want. I earned it.”
He certainly did. At 600 meters, Davis’ time was good for just fifth place, a palpable apprehension hovering around the ice. In the homestretch, Davis even dropped his arms for extra propulsion and crossed the line “depleted . . . 100%" in his own estimation.
The final kick was enough to carry him. Then there was energy enough for revelry, primarily due to this win knocking even his barrier-breaking 2006 gold medal off the top of his personal mantel.
“I would say it’s probably No. 1,” he said. “Once you become world champion or Olympic champion, you get this nice little thing on your back -- it’s called a target. People usually shoot for you. Just to be able to go out there today and defend my 1,000-meter title is truly amazing. I’m very satisfied that I was able to stay true to myself and defend my title.”
It was a momentous night, especially with the apparent détente between Davis and U.S. teammate Chad Hedrick, who skated to a surprising bronze medal Wednesday and who was Davis’ chief foil in 2006.
On Wednesday, Hedrick was among the first to congratulate Davis. They carried the American flag to the podium together and beamed one seat apart at a post-race news conference.
“America has two of the best skaters in the world, and we should be so proud of that,” said Hedrick, whose time of 1:09.32 placed him just behind silver medalist Mo Tae-bum of Korea (1:09.12).
“Me congratulating him after the race, and him and I getting together and carrying the American flag, I think that shows that people misread us. We just want to win. We just want to make people at home proud.”
Davis had smiled and laughed through a breezy effort in a 5,000-meter race, then caused a stir by withdrawing from the 500-meter competition. Davis labeled that choice “perfectly fine” and suggested it left him with much-needed gas in the 1,000-meter event.
He is now the second-most decorated U.S. speedskater in history, behind Eric Heiden. There can be exasperation with how he does all of this, but his atypical path remains golden.
“I try to stick to my guns,” Davis said. “I go out there, and I skate from my heart.”