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Olympics / Sports

USA's Shani Davis competes during the Men's 1500 meter speed race at Adler Arena during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, February 15, 2014. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Commentary: Shani Davis has a new image but no medals in Sochi Olympics

SOCHI, Russia -- Shani Davis came to Sochi on a mission, not only to add more Olympic medals to the four he already owns, but also to finally embrace the spotlight and allow it to illuminate the sport he has loved his entire life.

His greatness as a long-track speedskater, the Sochi Games notwithstanding, is written in the record books for all to see. Double Olympic gold in the 1,000 meters. Double silver in the 1,500. World records at both distances. A decade of brilliance.

But Davis wanted to shine in other ways in Sochi. He wanted America to feel his passion, to connect with him, to finally get a peek under the hood of his skin suit and see what the skate-crazy Dutch have seen for years: his personality.

In the weeks before the Winter Games, Davis shot a handful of commercials and was featured in NBC promos. At the Olympic trials, he talked about how he had found balance between racing and off-ice obligations and had embraced his role as a team leader. Apolo Ohno said his friend finally understood that being a champion meant more than just winning races.

The stars were aligned. This was Davis' chance, maybe his last one, to finally get the adoration he longed for and deserved.

It didn't happen when he was at his absolute best, in Turin in 2006 and in Vancouver four years ago, for a variety of reasons -- some his own doing and others he couldn't control.

Early in his career he didn't seem to understand that image, if not everything, is at least plenty. He feuded with U.S. Speedskating, couldn't rise above a running spat with fellow star Chad Hedrick and was wary of the media. What did they want, anyway? Wasn't his skating enough?

Privately, those who knew Davis described him as loyal, charismatic, genuine, approachable and honest to a fault. Those are the traits he wanted the world to see in Sochi.

For that to happen he knew he was going to have to win medals because America doesn't pay attention to the guy who finishes in the middle of the pack at the Olympic Games.

And so, his finishes of eighth in the 1,000 and 11th in the 1,500 were beyond frustrating. He'd rarely performed this poorly in his career and never on a big stage.

"It kills me inside to know that the attention I am getting now, these are the kind of things I've always wanted since 2002," Davis said. "I wanted to be a speedskater that Americans knew and followed and cheered for. I worked hard to get that. In 2006, it didn't quite go my way. In 2010, I didn't have anyone working for me to pull people into my corner.

"Now in 2014 I have the whole country behind me. I have people following me. I had everything going into it, but I come away with nothing to show them."

On Saturday, in a 15-minute post-race interview in the media mixed zone at the Adler Arena, Davis couldn't have been more professional. Despite the disappointment of finishing 11th in the 1,500, he was patient and candid and refused to make excuses.

"I tried the best I can and I don't have the hardware to show for it," he said. "At the end of the day the paper says I was eighth (in the 1,000) and 11th. It doesn't say because of the (skin) suit or because of lack of confidence or whatever you have to deal with. It just says eighth and 11th. So that's what I have to live with for the rest of my life.

"I feel like we had a lot of distractions, but I am not going to sit here and blame my performance on those things because I have been here before and done it many times. So you have to point the finger at me."

Reporters kept firing questions at him about the controversial Under Armour skin suit and the skaters' decision midway through the Games to switch back to old suits. A U.S. Speedskating representative asked several times for them to limit questions to the race.

Davis handled it beautifully.

"We need to get the facts right," he said calmly, "so they have a good story."

And so it went, Davis answering every last question about the suits, the team's underwhelming performance and his personal disappointment.

He doesn't know if he'll stick around for the 2018 Winter Games in Korea. He would be 35 and perhaps Sochi showed that he is beginning the inevitable age-related decline. In the meantime, he has one more race, the team pursuit, where a bronze medal would feel like gold.

"I am content, man," Davis said. "This my fourth Olympics. I had success in my middle Olympics in '06 and '10. I would have loved, if you want to say (these are) my last Olympic races, to have a medal and finish with the cherry on top.

"For people who have been tuning in, watching, view parties, things like that, I'm very disappointed I couldn't do more for them."

There's a great line in the movie "White Men Can't Jump," delivered by Rosie Perez's character, that "sometimes when you win you lose and sometimes when you lose you really win."

Davis lost, but some would say he finally won. And that maybe it was one Olympic cycle too late.

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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