SBD/Issue 105/Olympics

Shani Davis Captures Gold Medal But Can’t Escape Controversy

Davis Remains Cool In Post-Race Interview
U.S. speedskater Shani Davis on Saturday won the 1,000-meter event at the Turin Games to become the first black athlete to win an individual Gold Medal in a Winter Olympics. In N.Y., Lynn Zinser wrote it was an “accomplishment he did not seem to grasp in the minutes after the race.” Davis: “It’s cool to have a gold medal because so many people train hard and work hard all their lives and they don’t have a gold medal, regardless of their color” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). When asked if his Gold Medal was the sort of accomplishment that will “inspire minority kids in the U.S. to take up speed skating in earnest,” Davis said, “It would be if it was a bigger sport. But if some kids in Chicago see this and start skating, then I’ll be happy it happened” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/19).

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE: Davis’ post-race interview with NBC’s Melissa Stark is drawing reaction from U.S. news outlets. Here is part of the interview:

Stark: “You are the first African-American male to win a Gold Medal at the Winter Games. How proud are you of that?”

Davis: “I’m pretty happy about it.”

Stark: “That’s it?”

Davis: “Yeah.”

Stark: “Are you angry, Shani?”

Davis: “No, I’m happy. I have a loss for words right now.”

Stark (sarcastically): “You sure do look happy.”

Right after the interview, NBC’s Dan Hicks said, “That is certainly not the kind of interview you’re used to hearing from an Olympic Gold Medalist. It is obvious something is on Davis’ mind, and at this stage of the Games, we’re not about to guess what that might be.” NBC studio host Bob Costas then noted the “tension” between Davis and his U.S. teammates, specifically Chad Hedrick, stemming from Davis’ decision not to participate in the team pursuit so he could focus on individual events. When asked earlier if he was happy for Davis, Hedrick replied, “I’m happy for Joey [Cheek],” who won the Silver Medal in the 1,000-meter and Gold in the 500 last week (NBC, 2/18).

GRUDGE MATCH: In Chicago, Melissa Isaacson cited sources as saying that Davis was “angry, specifically at Costas, for critical remarks about Davis’ decision not to compete in the team pursuit.” After the NBC interview, Davis held interviews with Dutch TV crews that were described as “warm and engaging.” An NBC source said that Davis had been offered another chance to do a studio interview — which he had previously declined — in place of the Stark interview, but he refused. Davis’ agent, Peter Carlisle said that he did not think Davis’ “behavior was significant.” Carlisle: “Every athlete approaches the Olympics in a different way.” Davis added, “I’m not mad at anybody. I’m up there and I have to go to the bathroom. ... And then afterward you’ve got the flower ceremony, and then you have to talk to 5 million people. I mean, I appreciate people wanting to talk, but nature is calling and I can’t say that in front of the camera, so I just tried to keep it short” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/19).

BLOWN OPPORTUNITY: In Chicago, Jay Mariotti wrote of Davis’ post-race behavior: “Doesn’t Shani understand the importance of exposure, especially if he wants to turn his victory snowball into an ‘avalanche’ that helps people discover the sport? Doesn’t he understand that millions of viewers were seeing him for the first time — and that all he did was justify some of the mean things being said about him by teammates and others? Apparently not” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/20). Also in Chicago, Greg Couch writes Davis “botched the handling of his Olympic moment.” Davis “comes off as selfish and egotistical because of the way he keeps mishandling his message” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/21). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote, “He has no obligation to provide any more entertainment than he did on the ice, but it immediately crossed my mind what an opportunity he had just thrown away. ... At the moment when his personality would be projected to millions of sports fans and thousands of advertising executives, he displayed no personality at all and, I’m just guessing, cost himself a few hundred thousand bucks” (Baltimore SUN, 2/20). In Orlando, Jemele Hill writes Davis behaved “unprofessionally” during his NBC interview. Hill: “Making history sometimes means making enemies. But it does not excuse Davis or his mother from their petty behavior” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/21).

Some Feel Hedrick Driving
U.S. Speedskating Feud
DAVIS-HEDRICK: Davis and Hedrick won Silver and Bronze, respectively, in today’s 1,500-meter event (THE DAILY). The N.Y. TIMES’ Zinser noted Davis has been “embroiled in a dispute over sponsorship” with U.S. Speedskating (USS), which “cut off his funding.” Davis has refused to remove from his uniform the logo of his sponsor, Dutch bank DBS, and display the logo of the USS sponsor Qwest. Also, after the dispute between Davis and Hedrick over Davis’ decision not to compete in the team pursuit, the 1,000 meters was “billed as the showdown between the two” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). L.A. Times columnist Alan Abrahamson, on the feud between Hedrick and Davis: “There is blame all around, but the real blame has to lie with (USS). These athletes need to be better supported financially and emotionally” (“Today,” NBC, 2/20). On Long Island, Johnette Howard wrote that after Davis had “finished talking thoughtfully about his controversial past, his views on becoming the first black Winter Olympian to win a gold medal in an individual event, and his rivalry with Hedrick, it was ... Hedrick who looked self-absorbed and petty.” Howard: “Davis was given many chances to slap Hedrick down ... and he refused to do it. Everything he said was classy and measured and smart. The contrast between Davis and Hedrick couldn’t have been greater” (NEWSDAY, 2/19). In Boston, Bob Ryan wrote Hedrick “comes off sounding petulant and spoiled” (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/19). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “I think both (Hedrick and Davis) have acted very selfishly” (“PTI,” ESPN, 2/20).

DEFENDING SHANI: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes Hedrick wanted Davis to participate in the team pursuit “because it would almost guarantee [Hedrick] a shot at five gold medals. Hedrick saw endorsement dollars dancing in his head if he could turn himself into the next Eric Heiden. ... Who’s the selfish one?” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/21). In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote the Gold Medal was Davis’ “vindication, first for Davis’ strategy of separating himself from a skating federation that he felt did not serve his best interests, in areas both racial and economic. ... It’s also vindication for his involvement with his overprotective mother, Cherie. ... Finally, Saturday was vindication for what teammates consider the ultimate selfish act” (L.A. TIMES, 2/19). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt wrote, “Pardon [Davis] if he invokes the name of Charles Barkley, he doesn’t particularly want to be a role model. ... What should really matter most is whether you are a skilled, dedicated athlete, regardless of color.” If wearing the patch of DBS despite the USS protest “makes Davis a bad guy, the same goes for Hedrick, as well as Derek Parra. They are also outside [USS] for signing with the same European bank that funds Davis. The difference is Davis’ high-profile and controversial mother raises the issue while Hedrick and Parra remain silent” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL, 2/19). Davis: “I think a lot of people don’t understand me.” But USA TODAY’s Mike Lopresti wrote that is “not important. The journey is what was important. Winning is what we ask for. A winner he was” (USA TODAY, 2/20). In N.Y., Harvey Araton wrote Davis “deserves credit, admiration, not scorn” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). An ORLANDO SENTINEL editorial states Davis’ “accomplishment speaks for itself. Shani Davis is a winner. And for those who will follow his example of passionate pursuit, he is a true American hero” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/21). Yahoo Sports’ Ken Murrah wrote of Davis, “Years from now, we may look at him in [the] same light as other historically important black American Olympic athletes like Jesse Owens” (, 2/19). The Denver Post’s Jim Armstrong: “With precious few exceptions, every Olympian out there ... all they care about is endorsement money: dollars and cents, not Stars and Stripes. If anything, I applaud Shani Davis for his honesty” (“Around The Horn,” 2/20).

A HIT IN HOLLAND: In Miami, Michelle Kaufman noted Dutch Olympics fans are “more aware of Davis than his own countrymen,” and when he won the Gold, they “gave him an ovation ..., even though he finished ahead” of Dutch Bronze Medalist Erben Wennemars (MIAMI HERALD, 2/19). Davis said, “They just did a documentary on me in Holland. They say 700,000 people saw it. I’m known in Holland. I’m known in Europe” (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/19).

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