Davis' performance saves his sport

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Shani Davis is no media darling, but he is beloved within his sport.

Perhaps now more than ever.

As the Winter Olympics speedskating competition hurtled headfirst toward another slew of "embarrassing" accusations, the sometimes off-putting and elusive but always supremely talented Davis finally provided a spark bright enough to cut through a week of mayhem and mishap.

Davis' magnificent performance in the men's 1,000 meters, in which he seared his way around the Richmond Olympic Oval to edge South Korea's Mo-Tae Bum and fellow American Chad Hedrick, gave this sport something to marvel at: Its most explosive athlete fulfilled the prerace hype and turned thoughts away from its self-inflicted controversy of broken machinery and substandard facilities.

Yet even while Davis was celebrating another gold medal Wednesday night to add to his gold and silver from Turin four years ago, a furious collection of the world's best speedskaters was lining up to fling more criticism at Winter Olympic chiefs after another painstaking delay that disrupted several athletes.

"This doesn't feel like an Olympic competition," said Simon Kuipers of the Netherlands, the sixth-place finisher. "It is kind of [expletive]. They have four years to prepare and they can't even get things right. There are so many mistakes and it is embarrassing for them."

The latest uproar centered around Russian veteran Dmitry Lobkov. After a false start in his race with Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima, Lobkov did not hear the whistle and covered two-thirds of the track at full speed before realizing he would have to restart. That prompted a significant delay in which he was allowed time to recover, while other skaters ready for action were left to kick their heels on the infield while trying to keep their muscles limbered.

Athletes and coaches were disgruntled that Lobkov was not given more notice that there had been a false start, and the 20-minute delay that followed raised their ire further. There also was speculation of a timing malfunctioning contributing to the delay, but Richmond Oval officials refused to comment when asked for clarification by Yahoo! Sports.

The Lobkov saga comes days after previous controversies surrounding the quality of the ice surface at Richmond, and the humiliating failure of the venue's resurfacing machines to operate properly during Monday night's men's 500 meters.

"I don't know how they can make so many mistakes," Lobkov told Yahoo! Sports. "I have never seen things like this before. It feels like national championships, not Olympic Games. There are problems with everything and no resolution. So many things are happening."

How ironic it was then that it turned out to be Davis, an anti-establishment figure in the speedskating world who has a long-standing dispute with his national federation, who saved the day by putting in a performance that cemented his place as a true Olympic great.

Davis rarely talks to the media, and doesn't always adopt a civil tone when he does. You won't often find him on popular magazine covers or in flashy commercials. He even asked for his name to be removed from the U.S. speedskating media guide.

Yet here he is the star, a man of whom his sport should be proud. His pursuit of success is relentlessly unwavering and thoroughly unapologetic.

Davis is the remarkable story not many people know about, a black man who crossed over from short track to dominate a sport that has spilled its imperfections across the unpredictable Richmond ice over the past few days. He is the kind of athlete whose performances ooze that intoxicating mix of grace and power, in his case a blur of gliding movement.

And on Wednesday he became as good an advertisement as the sport is going to get in this troubled situation.

"The things that have happened, like the long waits, are not good for this sport," said Finland's Mika Poutala, who finished eighth. "There are a lot of spectators coming for the first time, they had to wait one hour more the other day and more time [Wednesday], it is very bad.

"We only get this kind of publicity every four years and it is a shame."

Most people only get to see Davis once every four years, so make the most of it while you can. Saturday's 1,500 meters will be his final race of the Vancouver Games – unless he has a dramatic change of heart and opts to participate in the team pursuit.

Davis is an overwhelming favorite in the 1,500, so it may not have the same level of drama as Wednesday's effort, when he labored at the midway point before turning on the jets with 200 meters to go to win in 1:08:94, 0.18 ahead of Mo.

And so Davis rejoiced, smiled, professed to be more humble than four years earlier while just as appreciative of his accomplishment, if not more so. The sport as a whole, after the farcical failures that threatened to trivialize speedskating, surely also is appreciative.

In fact, Davis even tried to take the heat off Richmond officials in his post-victory press conference.

"What is going on with the ice and equipment could happen anywhere, it just happened to happen at the Olympics," he said. "As top-level skaters you have to be prepared for any situation. It happened, we dealt with it and we did the best we could. We were able to do that so it is all good in the end."

Davis' comments defending the organizational failings of these Games were more than Vancouver deserved. He, on the other hand, is worth every bit of approval that this dynamic performance will receive.

Even if he doesn't want it.

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