RICHMOND, British Columbia — There would be no star-spangled storybook ending or scintillating drama in the last chapter of the Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick story. The two best American speedskaters had patched things up after feuding four years ago, and were back on the Richmond Olympic Oval Saturday night for a crack at a gold medal in the 1,500.
Davis, the world-record holder, was favored and coming off a gold-medal performance in the 1,000. Hedrick took bronze in the 1,000, and was so focused on winning the 1,500 that his wife, Lynsey, had taped up a motivational collage of photos and sayings on the inside of their front door, and atop the display were the words: Win the 1,500 gold in 2010.
Neither skater got his wish.
Instead, the gold went to Dutch 1,000-meter specialist Mark Tuitert, whose winning time of 1:45.57 was a hair too fast for Davis to top. Davis settled for silver with a time of 1:46.10, five seconds short of his world record. Havard Bokko of Norway took bronze.
Hedrick, admitting he "panicked," finished sixth in 1:46.69.
"If I was a betting man, I'd have put my money on the Americans..quite a bit of money," Hedrick said. "I'm so shocked I did better in the 1,000 than 1,500, and that's what's hard for me to swallow. I had that dream of finishing my career with a win. I skated for 30 years, started walking on roller skates. I feel like I trained 30 years for this one race, and that's why emotions got the best of me. I had this picture-perfect storybook ending I wanted to put on my career, and I couldn't do it."
Davis was equally disappointed, even though he matched his performance from the 2006 Olympics, winning gold in the 1,000 and silver in the 1,500. He is the fourth male speedskater in U.S. history to win two Olympic gold medals.
"Even though I was a heavy favorite, I try not to get too far ahead of myself with what I've accomplished in the past," Davis said. "I like to have the underdog approach. I have a little card that says underdog on it and I look at it every day. I was really fired up, hoping I could cap off my Olympics with a victory in the 1,500. I did the best I could and I just wasn't strong enough.
"Today Mark's the king of the hill, and I couldn't think of a more deserving guy."
Tuitert and Bokko were paired third from the end, so Hedrick, skating in the penultimate pair, and Davis, in the final pair, knew precisely the time they had to beat.
Hedrick fell behind early, and never got close to Tuitert's time. Davis did, and the crowd_largely orange-clad Dutch fans_roared as he rounded the final corner in second place. Davis was in a similar position in the final stretch of the 1,000, and he surged ahead at the finish. This time, he fell half a second short.
"I thought maybe I could go under it a little bit, but I came across the line, heard the 'oohs' and 'ahhs', and realized Mark had won," Davis said. "That's just the way of sports. Any given day people can go out and achieve greatness. It happened to me in Torino, happened again here in Vancouver four years later. I have to accept it, and hopefully I can get stronger from it."
Hedrick, 32, is retiring after these Olympics, joking that when he gets home "I'm posting a classified ad on Monster.com." He so badly wanted to win this race that he obsessed about it, went over it 20 times in his head in the warmup room, he said.
"I wasted a lot of energy during the race," Hedrick conceded. "There was a lot of emotion with me with this being my last race; and I let emotions get the best of me. I was a wreck a little bit. I lost control of the race and forgot all the things I've been working on technically. I panicked because I had a guy who had a really fast start and I didn't want to let him get too far ahead of me. I used my heart instead of my technique."
After the race, Tuitert ran over to kiss his wife, and then did a victory lap with the Dutch flag draped over his shoulders while the ever-present Dutch Oompa Loompa band serenaded the champion with "We are the Champions," and "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore." The Dutch fans belted out the "Halleluyahs" to the spiritual song, and Tuitert could not stop smiling.
Four years ago in Turin, Hedrick called the 1,500 "the one that got away" from the Americans when Italian Enrico Fabrice was a surprise winner. It got away again.
Kaufman reports for the Miami Herald