By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; D01
RICHMOND, B.C. -- The man smiled and smiled and smiled. Speedskater Shani Davis looked like he had just walked into a surprise party. For the entire U.S. Olympic team, a giant party was exactly what this day at the Winter Games had turned into. Davis, who had just claimed the second of three U.S. gold medals and the third of six overall won Wednesday, skated around the Olympic speedskating oval Wednesday with his arms raised, accepting hugs, handshakes and high fives.
"It's my moment," Davis said later. "It's my party . . . I can celebrate; I can dance; I can do whatever I want. I earned it."
He did indeed earn the gold in the men's 1,000 meters, overcoming heavy expectations and enormous pressure to become the first man to repeat as the Olympic champion in the event -- but the party wasn't just his. Adding to the night's luster was the surprising appearance of U.S. teammate Chad Hedrick on a lower step of the medal podium. Hedrick, not favored in the race, won the bronze medal behind South Korea's Mo Tae-Bum.
"Nobody expected me to leave here with a medal today," Hedrick said. But "I don't wake up every morning for sixth place."
Hours after Americans Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso won the gold and silver in the women's downhill and before U.S. snowboarders Shaun White and Scotty Lago claimed the gold and bronze in the men's halfpipe, Davis and Hedrick shared their celebration. Davis handed Hedrick a corner of an American flag someone had handed him, and the two held it jointly on the medal stand, Davis throwing his arm over the shoulder of his once-bitter rival. Wednesday, they looked like nothing more than joyous teammates, both flashing high-watt smiles.
Davis won the event in 1 minute 8.94 seconds skating in the last of 20 groups of skaters; Mo, who had been paired with Hedrick in the 16th pair, finished in 1:09.12. Hedrick clocked a 1:09.32.
"It makes it a little more exciting to see two Americans on top of that podium," Hedrick said.
At the last Olympic Games, Davis won two medals and Hedrick three, but they feuded publicly after Hedrick lashed out at Davis for not participating in the team pursuit. This year has been different.
"This just signifies what it's all about," Hedrick said. "Him and I are so proud to be Americans. We came here to be the best.
"Me congratulating him after the race, and him and I getting together and carrying the flag, that shows people misread us . . . Shani and I really respect each other as athletes, and what happened the last time is old news. We felt like our parade was rained on last time . . . I hope people will look at us in a different light, and say those people are great athletes rather than, who wants to fight who?"
There are very few safe bets in the world of winter sports, with ice and snow and varying weather conditions a constant threat to topple even the biggest stars, but Davis appeared to be close to a sure thing Wednesday. Since winning gold at the Turin Winter Games, he has been the World Cup champion every year. He holds the world record and won the 2009 World Sprint Championships in Moscow.
His dominance has been so overwhelming, a cluster of orange-clad Dutch fans in a corner of the arena held up a sign in support of Stefan Groothuis that singled out the American star: "DAVIS YOU HAVE A PROBLEM!" the sign, partly in Dutch, began.
Davis, of course, did not have any problem at all, though he looked to be in trouble early in the race. After 200 meters, Davis's time was 10th best in the field. After 600, he had closed to fifth. He pumped both arms to pick up speed at the finish. When he crossed the line and peered up at the clock, he had to blink back tears when he saw the result. The victory, he said, topped his first Olympic gold.
"It's probably number one," he said. "It means so much more because I was able to defend instead of attack . . . Once you become the world champion or Olympic champion, you get this nice little thing on your back -- it's called a target, and people usually shoot for you."
A considerably weaker U.S. long-track speedskating squad than the one that claimed seven medals in Turin was relying on Davis to haul in some hardware. Davis, however, had gotten off to a slow start at these Games in his non-specialty events. In the 5,000 meters, Davis placed 12th, way out of the medal picture. He withdrew from the 500 after the first race following a delay in the competition caused by a malfunctioning ice-resurfacing machine.
In both cases, Davis merely was setting himself up for his best performance in his premier events, according to Ryan Shimabukuro, a U.S. coach who occasionally works with Davis. He also competes Saturday in the 1,500, an event in which he is the reigning world champion.
"Shani's a very smart competitor," Shimabukuro said.
Davis long ago severed ties with the sport's national governing body, the U.S. Speedskating Association, over a sponsorship dispute, and his first Olympics was marred by his clash with Hedrick.
Wednesday night, however, good feelings prevailed all over the rink.
"Coming into these Games, [Davis and Hedrick] are at much different places in their lives," Shimabukuro said. "They are looking to put 2006 behind and make good memories here."