Shani Davis: Skating for History, Not Love

Complicated and controversial, the speed skater can shut up his critics when he steps on the ice in Sochi.

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In the run-up to Sochi, Davis has ventured a toe, perhaps even a whole foot, back into the public arena by granting more interviews. He views himself as not nearly as complicated as he has appeared to others, just a regular Chicago guy, one who roots for “da Bears” and the rest of the city’s sports teams and who couldn’t survive without regular infusions of the city’s signature deep-dish pizza. About the most controversial thing he’s revealed about himself is that he is strictly a Giordano’s pizza man, which might offend fellow Chicagoans who swear by Gino’s, Lou Malnati’s or any of the other contenders for top pizza honors.

The American mainstream press has never been entirely comfortable with “difference” of any kind in the athletes it covers. At the very least, Davis is due a reassessment of his career. Individualism isn’t the same thing as selfishness. Had Davis been all about himself, he would have skated those relays and, in all likelihood, would already stand atop the U.S. Olympic speed-skating medal chart. It seems that Davis, the man, is really that same kid who cared less about the medals than about skating fast.

And he has gone faster—and faster for longer—than even he could have imagined. In doing so, he has blazed a pioneering Olympic trail with gold and silver—not just for himself, but for all black athletes on roads less taken, for the sport of speed skating and for his country.

Mark Starr, a former national sports correspondent for Newsweek magazine, has covered 11 consecutive Olympics, including six Winter Games.

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