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Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick full of positive vibes

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; D05

RICHMOND, B.C. -- Longtime U.S. rivals and former adversaries Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick didn't perform well in the Olympic 5,000-meter men's speedskating final Saturday, not at all, but they sure were nice to each other. And their opponents. And reporters. And fans back home.

Davis, a gold-medal favorite in other races here, and Hedrick, the defending champion in the event, showed little speed and less endurance in the grueling race, but each oozed sportsmanship, good humor and positive energy four years after an Olympic Games in which both earned reputations as surly and sniping stars.

In a race dominated by Dutch star Sven Kramer, who won in 6 minutes 14.60 seconds, Hedrick finished 11th (6:27.07) and Davis 12th (6:28.44) just ahead of American Trevor Marsicano, who was 14th (6:30.93). Though the event was considered something of a warm-up for Hedrick and Davis for the middle-distance events in which both now specialize, at least top-10 finishes were expected for both.

Yet neither complained or moped. Both heartily congratulated Kramer, who has dominated the distance this year. Davis was one of the first to embrace the overwhelmed and overjoyed Dutchman, who sprinted into the stands to hug members of his family, and both Davis and Hedrick later talked about bringing a far kinder, more gentle approach to this Olympics.

"I have a different outlook on things right now," Hedrick said.

Said Davis, "I feel like things are changing for the better, and I'm just really excited and happy to be in the position I am now."

At the last Games, the two made their distaste for each other apparent, and their quiet feud exploded when Hedrick accused Davis of not being a team player for failing to take part in the team relay event. Davis announced in December he would not take part in the team pursuit again this year, but this time his decision was met with no resistance from Hedrick.

"This time, it's a whole other story," Davis said. "I'm having a lot of fun. I'm enjoying myself. I greeted everyone out there that made the podium and the people that had personal bests . . . It's a lot more positive than it was before."

At the 2006 Games in Turin, where Davis became the first black athlete to win an individual gold in the Winter Games, he failed to capitalize on his fame because of the ugliness that bubbled between him and Hedrick. For these Games, however, he has created his own YouTube channel to send personal updates to his followers; in one 1 minute 13-second clip from Vancouver, Davis says he wants fans to get to know him from him "instead of some other source."

Even so, Davis said, even members of the media have been giving him more love this year.

"A lot of things have changed, not only with me, but just with how people interact and deal with me," he said. "It's a lot more positive than it was before."

Despite the attitude shift, Davis remains estranged from the U.S. Speedskating Association, refusing its funding and continuing to refuse to let the organization publish his biography in its media guide.

He also coaches himself, even while consulting with a host of advisers, and decided to take on a large Olympic program -- he will be competing in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 -- though most speedskaters now specialize to ensure they have the best chance of winning.

Davis had the misfortune of being paired with Kramer in the final race, an arrangement that after four laps left him skating by himself as Kramer took off.

"That's okay," he said. "I did go out there and do my best. I was positive about it. I came away with a really hard race, and I'm just ready to get on with the rest of the competition."

After the Turin Olympics, Hedrick got married and became a self-described family man, fathering a baby girl and receiving a sponsorship from Pampers diapers. (Three weeks ago, his wife had a miscarriage.) This, he has said, will be his last Olympics.

Hedrick skated last, which meant he knew exactly what time he needed to achieve to successfully defend his gold medal. He never had a chance. Hedrick blamed his poor finish on a bad race strategy; given the soft ice conditions, he said he decided to bring back the shorter-stride technique he had used in his in-line skating days.

It did not work. Hedrick tired quickly and did not gain speed.

In the end, though, neither that, nor anything else, seemed worth getting upset about.

"All the skaters aren't as serious any more," Hedrick said. "We all want to go out and do well . . . but at the end of the day, it's fun . . .

"All that happened before, that's in the past. That's not even worth talking about."

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