It’s a big challenge not to get too excited. You’ve just got to believe in yourself more. You’ve got to focus on, not so much the things that are going on around you that you cannot control, and focus on the things that you can. —Shani Davis
KEARNS — When Shani Davis was trying to skate through a painful groin injury against the world’s best speedskaters, he felt frustrated and discouraged.
It wasn’t until he started to contemplate his training in the offseason that he realized the injury wasn’t the disaster it seemed to be last season.
“The groin thing really hurt me, but I take it as a blessing in disguise,” said Davis after winning a gold medal in the 1,500-meter race at the ISU World Cup at the Utah Olympic Oval Friday. “It kept me humble. I was just so frustrated I couldn’t go out and (skate) my hardest, do my best. And it’s so rewarding now that I’m heading in the right direction, but it’s only thanks to that groin injury.”
Davis won the 1,500 with his fastest time in four years (1:41.98). Teammate Brian Hansen earned a personal best and first silver in the 1,500 with a time of 1:42.17. Koen Verweij of the Netherlands set a new national record with a time of 1:42.28.
Davis and Hansen weren’t the only Americans to earn medals on the first day of World Cup competition. Heather Richardson set a new national record in the women’s 500 with a time of 36.97. It was also a track record, but that time was beaten a few minutes later when both silver medalist Beixing Wang of China and gold medalist Sang Hwa Lee of Korea earned faster times.
In fact, Lee set a new world record with a time of 36.57 seconds, while Wang set a new Chinese national record with a time of 36.85. Lee declined to talk with the media after her race, but she did participate in a ceremony to change the placard in the lobby of the Utah Olympic Oval bearing her name and world record-setting time.
Her coach, Den Dutson, who is from Utah, said Lee is in a great place this season, even with the pressure of being the defending Olympic 500-meter champion.
"She doesn't think about it too much," he said. "She just goes out and does her thing. ... She actually mentioned she wasn't really looking to break a world record at the moment. ... She just did her best and got another world record. She's pleased."
On the men’s side, Canada’s Gilmore Junio and Joji Kato tied for first with a time of 34.25 seconds. Michel Mulder of the Netherlands was third with a time of 34.26, which was also a national record for his country.
American Mitchell Whitmore finished fourth, but he set a new U.S. record with a time of 34.29, with his teammate and last week’s gold medalist, Tucker Fredricks, earning fifth with a time of 34.29.
Fredricks skated faster but missed the podium, which was indicative of how fast the athletes were skating on what Utahns like to call “The fastest ice on earth.”
Davis said watching records fall while waiting for his race, the last of the day, was difficult.
“It’s a big challenge not to get too excited,” he said smiling. “You’ve just got to believe in yourself more. You’ve got to focus on, not so much the things that are going on around you that you cannot control, and focus on the things that you can.”
He said he was thrilled to win a gold in front of his family and friends after finishing second in the 1,500 in Calgary last weekend.
“My goal was to go here and to skate faster than I did the previous week,” he said. “Wow, 1:41.98? That’s a lot faster, a big improvement.”
So why was the groin injury such a blessing?
“If that didn’t happen, I think I would have done the same thing I’ve always done,” he said, “just train, train, train, train, train. I wouldn’t have cared about recovery, taking care of my body and maybe it would have happened this year.”
Davis said it was overtraining that caused the injury.
“It was just too much volume,” he said. “When you’re 30 years old, and I was 30 years old last year, you can’t train like you’re 22.”
Davis will be skating again Saturday in the 1,000, while Richardson will hit the ice again in the 500 and the 1,500. Races start at 9 a.m. Saturday with the B division athletes. The A division races begin at 1:15 p.m.