SOCHI, Russia — The list of American big-name Winter Olympians who did not win a medal in their specialty events was already getting long when Shani Davis stepped to the starting line of the 1,000-meter long track speed skating race Wednesday night.
Halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White, alpine downhill skiers Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso and 1,500-meter short track speed skater J.R. Celski had all failed to add to the United States’ medal count, and that left Davis, who was attempting to become the first American male to win the same event in three consecutive Winter Olympics, to save the day. Or at least do … something.
Who knows what is going on here in Sochi? It can’t be the water, because all the countries’ athletes have been instructed not to drink it. A Russian conspiracy is always possible. Maybe President Vladimir Putin used high-level intelligence to discover America’s Kryptonite and unleash it on everybody but our country’s snowboarders?
As it turned out, Shani Davis would want to know, too. Because when he finished the night in eighth place with a time of 1.09.12 — .73 behind winner Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands — he had no explanation for how it had gone so wrong.
“This one hurts me a lot,” said Davis, a 31-year-old Chicago native. “I just couldn’t do it, man. I have to look at the film and see. I’m not in shock. I’m very in tune with reality. I’m a little bit disappointed, but it’s sports. You win some and you lose some. There’s a lot of people that have trained all their lives to win.”
At least Davis won’t be going through this alone. The entire U.S. team — other than gold-medal-winning snowboarders Sage Kotsenberg (men’s slopestyle), Jamie Anderson (women’s slopestyle) and Kaitlynn Farrington (women’s halfpipe, on Wednesday night) — is searching for answers.
The U.S., which won the most medals in the 2010 Vancouver Games with 37, has just nine and trails Canada and the Netherlands (10) and Norway (12). America is tied for fifth with Switzerland in the gold-medal count with three, trailing Germany’s six.
Once alpine skier Lindsey Vonn announced that she would not compete in Sochi due to her knee injury, the Americans were going to be lacking for star power at these Games. Still, White and Davis, who were both trying to make history by winning their third consecutive gold on back-to-back nights, were considered locks to at least add to the U.S. medal effort.
White’s fourth-place finish in the halfpipe final on Tuesday night was more shocking than Davis coming in eighth. White had two runs to do it, whereas Davis only had the one race and didn’t know how far off he was until he crossed the finish line.
After that, he held the same pose — leaning over with his hands on his quads — for an entire cool-down lap as reality set in.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what’s going on, what was wrong. But obviously I need to figure something out, and I have to do it pretty quick, or it’s going to be the same thing in the 1,500.”
The 1,500 is not Davis’ premier event, but he has won silver in back-to-back Games. At this point, the United States would gladly take that.
J. Brady McCollough: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.