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USA's Davis, Hedrick celebrate medals at speedskating oval

USA's Shani Davis competes in the 1000 Meter Mens Speed Skating event during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, February 17, 2010. Brooks won the Gold Medal in this event.  (Harry E. Walker/MCT)
USA's Shani Davis competes in the 1000 Meter Mens Speed Skating event during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, February 17, 2010. Brooks won the Gold Medal in this event. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

RICHMOND, British Columbia — This time, there would be no bickering between America's two best speedskaters.

No frosty stares. No chilly words at the press conference.

This time, Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis and bronze medalist Chad Hedrick shook hands after their 1,000-meter race, laughed together on the podium, and even briefly carried the American flag together as a Dutch oompa-loompa band belted out a segment of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Davis, a reserved guy from the south side of Chicago, and Hedrick, an outgoing type from Spring, Texas, remain rivals, to be sure. They will battle again in the 1,500 on Saturday. But they're friendlier rivals now, and saying all the right things.

"Hat's off to Shani," Hedrick said after the race. "He's just untouchable in the 1,000. We're both so excited to have two Americans on that podium.

"Today signifies what it's all about, carrying the American flag together we are living our dream. What happened four years ago is old news. Our parade was rained on last time. We won five medals between us, five medals. This time, people will look at us different rather than who wants to fight with who."

Davis agreed.

"So far, so good. There's a different energy this time. The tables are turning in a positive way, and that's a good thing. It feels super nice."

So nice that after the Richmond Olympic Oval had mostly cleared, Davis was still waving to the final few fans in the stands, pumping his fists in the chilly air.

"It's my moment," he said, the pressure finally off his back. "It's my party. I want to enjoy it, want to dance, want to celebrate. I earned it."

Yes, he did. And it wasn't easy. Never has been, as one of the few black men in a white sport.

Davis, the first man in Olympic history to win two 1,000-meter gold medals, was in the final pairing of the night. He had to watch 36 other skaters go before him, and then he had to beat the time of 21-year-old Korean Mo Tae-bum, a rising star who won the 500-meter gold earlier in the week. The time to beat was 1:09.12.

The race could not have been scripted any better if a Hollywood screen writer was in charge. Davis and Mun Joon of Korea crouched on the starting line. The place was silent when the starting gun went off.

Mo entered the race second in the 1,000-meter world rankings, just behind Davis, and all week the tension had been building between the American and the Korean. Could Davis beat the time? Going into the final lap, Davis was in fifth place.

But then, like The Incredibles superhero, Frozone, for which he was the model, Davis seemed to turn on invisible jets and wield control over the ice the way the cartoon did in the movie. Next thing you know, Davis is crossing the finish line and up on the scoreboard is the time 1:08.94.

First place! Gold medal! The place goes nuts. "U-S-A! U-S-A!' they chant. And Davis breaks into a huge grin and starts pumping his fists. One of the first to come over and congratulate him was Hedrick, whose time of 1:09.32 was good enough for bronze. Mo settled for silver.

Davis is not your typical speedskater. He was raised by a single mom, and in 2006, with his gold medal in the 1,000, he became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics. He also won a silver in the 1,500.

His fiercely devoted mother, Cherie, has been criticized in the press for being overprotective, but on Wednesday, Davis said her "fighting spirit" was a big reason he was on the podium again. "She has a lot of courage, and she taught me to be a fighter," he said.

He has dominated the middle distances for the past four years. He qualified for five events at these Olympics, from the 500 meters to the 10,000 meters, drawing comparisons to Eric Heiden, considered the greatest U.S. speedskater of all time after winning five gold medals in the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Davis chose to drop the 10,000, and build his schedule around his two specialty races — the 1,000 and 1,500. And the strategy seems to be working.

He does things his way.

Although he wears the USA uniform, competes for his home country, and is the most respected U.S. speedskater in the world, he is estranged from the U.S. Speedskating federation because he felt slighted by the group in the past. He doesn't train with the team, accept its money, or appear in its media guide.

"I don't have any obligations to U.S. Speedskating," he said upon arriving at the Olympics. "I pay all my expenses. I'm a solo entity. I just felt they were putting pressure on me to be part of their organization, yet they don't give me the same benefits of the organization. In short, why should I?"

He prefers to think of himself as a speedskater of the world, partly because he feels underappreciated by fans and media in his own country. Davis is treated like a rock star in the Netherlands and Asia. He is stopped for autographs in Amsterdam, and has been sponsored by Dutch companies for years.

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