SOCHI, Russia — For four years, U.S. long track skater Shani Davis meticulously prepared for what he expected to be his Olympic finale on the shores of the Black Sea.
Not in his worst moments did he imagine how disappointing his Sochi experience would turn out to be.
“Wow, what a day,” he said, smiling and shaking his head after he and the U.S. long track team lost its quarterfinal race to Canada by more than three seconds in the team pursuit Friday. “What an Olympics; that was rough. ... I wanted nothing more than to have success here, to kind of close out my career as a speedskater, but it didn’t happen. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that I put a lot of work into it, but I didn’t get anything out of it.”
When a reporter asked him if he’ll skate in Saturday’s consolation race for seventh place, he began to answer and then doubled over with laughter.
“I hope that that was my last race here in Sochi,” he said, surprisingly upbeat after his fourth Olympic Games left him with no medals and a lot of questions. The 31-year-old Salt Lake City resident is so uneasy about what was supposed to be the glorious finale to his storied career, he’s reconsidering his original plan to retire.
“I’m a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he said. “And I feel that I can learn a lot from this. And I will. If I still find it in my heart, and I believe in myself, I’ll do it again. And if not, I’m going to move on to other things.”
The owner of four Olympic medals (two gold) and two world records might be the country’s most well-known speedskater leaving the 2014 Olympics without a medal, but he’s certainly not alone. The entire U.S. long track team failed to medal despite one of its most successful World Cup seasons in history.
The only medal won by U.S. speedskaters at the 2014 Winter Olympics was a silver captured by the men’s short track team Friday night.
“I don’t know what happened here,” Davis said. “I have to re-evaluate. I have to do some research. I have to figure some things out if I’m going to continue to move on and grow stronger. I have to figure out what went wrong because leading up to these Olympics, I was pretty strong.”
Enduring some of their worst performances of the year was tough enough. The speculation, rumors and finger-pointing that followed each race only made the situation more difficult for the American skaters.
“That’s an understatement,” Davis said when asked if this experience was a low point in his career. “We came in being one of the most decorated disciplines in the Winter Olympics, and we come away with zero medals. It’s horrible. But it’s not up to me to figure out the change. It’s up to the staff, the people, the high-performance directors, the coaches. That’s their job. My job was simply to skate.”
He admitted that the chaos around him affected his mental preparation, just as it did some of the other athletes.
The first theory was that the new high-tech skin suits developed by Lockheed Martin and Under Armour were actually slowing the athletes. Officials got special permission to switch back to the team’s World Cup suits, but the results were the same.
Then came questions about holding a pre-Olympic camp at high altitude instead of sea level. That was followed by criticism of the team’s high-performance program.
The U.S. skaters who competed Friday night said they don’t have the answers, but they will certainly do their part to find them.
“We have to destroy and rebuild,” Davis said. “Start from ground zero and build up again if we’re going to continue on to 2018."
Davis said he'll have to finish the season and then see if he still has the passion required to train and compete for another year. As difficult and as discouraging as the last two weeks have been, he said he will learn from this experience — on and off the ice.
“If I can take anything away from this year and these Olympics, it’s that I know that I have it within me to do great things,” he said. “Four years down the road, you never know.”
Fellow U.S. skater Brian Hansen declined comment as he passed somberly through the media area. The women’s team, made up of Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson and Jilleanne Rookard, lost to the Netherlands but skated fast enough to end up in the C Final.
“I feel really good about that race,” said Bowe. “That was the fastest low-land track time we’ve skated this year, by far.”
Rookard said that when they finished, they looked at the clock and were thrilled with the time.
“We actually high-fived each other because we thought that was a good time for us. ... It was very nice. Heather was joking, asking the coaches, ‘So the worst we can get is sixth? That’s the best performance at the Olympics!’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that, but I’m choosing to smile about it.”
Richardson said she was actually a little sad to see it all end.
“I guess I’ll go back to work for four more years,” she said.
Davis said he found his way through the madness by focusing on those who love him — win or lose.
“I love the people who’ve been along with me on this journey,” he said. “That’s why I work so hard because they believe in me, and I want them to continue to believe in me, so I really push myself ... whatever I find myself going through.”
The U.S. men's team will skate for seventh or eighth place Saturday, while the women will skate for fifth or sixth.
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