RICHMOND, British Columbia -- It didn't go the way Shani Davis had pictured it in his mind. For Davis, the presumptive favorite in the 1,500 meters, the world record holder who has rarely been beaten in the Kings race this season, he just didn't have it in him today.
Coming through the last turn, on the outside lane of the final pair, Davis was gritting his teeth and breathing hard, looking labored as he pumped his arms through the finish line. This is not the way the 27-year-old speedskater typically looks. And, as he crossed the line, he heard the slightly stunned reaction of the crowd and looked up hopefully to the board at the Richmond Olympic Oval, only to find that he had come in .53 seconds short of Dutch skater Mark Tuitert. Just short, yet again.
It felt familiar in some ways, missing out on gold in his favorite race. It happened just like this in 2006, when Italy's Enrico Fabris stunned the field by beating Davis and U.S. teammate Chad Hedrick, who earned the silver and bronze, respectively. Just like Tuitert tonight, Fabris skated in the 17th pair and, like in Turin, Davis couldn't muster up enough to beat the best time on the board.
"[The 1,500-meter race] been my favorite since I was a junior, as far back as I can remember skating," Davis said. "I always wanted to win that medal, the 1,500-meter Olympic gold medal, and I find myself two-time runner-up. I'll be honest, it hurts, but everybody out there skating wants to win. And, today, I wasn't able to. That's just how it goes."
It's hard to say what was more shocking: that Davis was upset in the race that he has dominated all season, or the man who edged him out of another gold. The 29-year-old Tuitert has often found himself in the middle of the pack on a talented Dutch team, never quite having enough to pull away and establish himself. The two-time World Championship silver medalist in the 1,500 meters burst out of the gate with the second-fastest time on his first lap, but it was his ability to stay with it to the end that won him his first Olympic gold medal. Norway's Havard Bokko, who started on the inner lane with Tuitert on the outside, claimed bronze.
"The Olympics is all about one guy coming out and having that special day, and Mark had that day," said U.S. skater Chad Hedrick, who struggled with nerves and finished off of the podium. "Enrico had that day in 2006, and that's what it's about. It's about people coming out of nowhere for that one special moment."
Hedrick, 32, certainly hoped that the special moment could have been his. In a disappointing race, in which he admittedly let his emotions get the best of him, he finished a disappointing sixth in what he says will be his last competitive solo race. "It was that dream, that dream of finishing your career with a win," he said after the race. "That's what I came out here to do today. This felt like I trained 30 years for this one race. In reality, that's how I felt. That's why the emotions got the worst of me. I had this picture perfect storybook ending I wanted to put on my career, and I couldn't do it."
After a somewhat surprising race on Wednesday, when he pulled off a bronze medal-winning performance in the 1,000 meters, Hedrick came into the rink Saturday confident he could pull it off. But, when he saw Stefan Groothuis on the inner lane get off to a roaring start, he panicked, not wanting to let the Dutch skater to gain too big a lead. "I was a wreck a little bit," he said. "I lost control of the race, and forgot all the things I've been working on technically. I used my heart, not my technique. I tried to use both, and it just didn't work today."
Hedrick will still skate in the team pursuit, which will take place next week. As for Davis, who will not participate in the pursuit, he will begin again after a few days of rest and getting his Olympic experience. "This is a day I have been looking forward to for a while, when all my events would be done," he said.
That said, he also indicated that he wouldn't rule out being in Sochi at all. "I still want to be able to win this race someday," he said.