RICHMOND, British Columbia -- When it comes to the Winter Olympics and sports in which athletes strap on skates, there's the Double Salchow, the Triple Axel and the Full Heiden.
The upshot: Davis' Olympics will end up consisting of three-and-a-half events. And the only two left are the ones in which he's a heavy favorite to bag the gold -- the 1,000 and 1,500.
The first of those goes off tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
The 27-year-old Chicago native was perfect at the distance during the fall portion of the World Cup season. He's the defending Olympic gold-medalist in the 1,000 and set the world record last March. Though he's far from the fastest off the start, three things more than compensate:
• Supreme confidence in the turns. It's the result of years of skating short-track, which even in the midst of the long-track season Davis still mixes into his training regimen. To cover 1,000 meters on a 400-meter oval, a long-track skater has to negotiate five turns, and at each Davis dips into a reservoir of cornering experience that few others have.
• Great rhythm on the straightaways. Once he comes out of those turns, Davis is a blade. "Right now, he's doing it on the straights," says former Olympian
• The Davis mystique. It's largely the product of the first two, and of Davis doing to every other middle-distance sprinter of late what he did to
"It's basically a controlled sprint," says U.S. coach
Hence Shimabukuro and Davis worked on "shifting gears" at training yesterday afternoon -- "really nailing the small technical things," the coach says, "that you need to execute in the 1,000."
Tonight, watch for 500-meter specialists like Finland's
Morrison's approach will be more sustained, like Davis'; for motivation, he'll have the cheers of the home crowd.
As for Korea's
But it's Davis who has the most on the line. He finished 12th in last Saturday's 5,000. Then, on Monday, he placed 18th in the first of two heats, before the Olympia machines went all kerblooey and organizers had to send an S.O.S. to Calgary for a back-up Zamboni. With no chance to medal, he withdrew rather than risk injury.
Nevertheless, the middle-distance sprints fall right into Davis' sweet spot. "Ever since he was young, Shani has had the natural ability to blend top speed and endurance," says Shimabukuro. "They complement each other in the 1,000."