Washington (AFP) – World champion speedskater Shani Davis is set to try for five gold medals at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games and banish memories of a bitter controversy that enveloped him at the 2006 Turin Games.
Fellow American Chad Hedrick went for five golds in Italy but repeatedly criticized Davis for not skating in team pursuit to focus on individual races. It was a US team pursuit defeat that ended Hedrick’s drive for five.
“It’s still Shani versus Chad, but it’s a lot different,” Hedrick said.
This time, Hedrick declined a 10,000m spot to focus on other events, putting Davis in position to be the first US skater to win five events at an Olympics since Eric Heiden won a record five speedskating gold medals in 1980 at Lake Placid.
“Those are very big shoes to fill,” the interview-reluctant Davis said in October. “I would just like to be Shani Davis.”
Now Davis is set to start his bid on February 13 with the 5,000 and end it with the 10,000 on February 23 in two of his least-likely medal events.
Davis, a three-time 1,500m and two-time 1,000m world champion, is the world record-holder at each distance and won 2006 Olympic 1,000m gold and 1,500m silver.
In 1,000m World Cup races this season, Davis is 4-for-4 with South Koreans Mo Tae-Bum and Lee Kyou-Hyuk his nearest Cup rivals. World champion Trevor Marsicano, another American, is also a threat.
In the 1,500, Davis is 4-of-5 this season, his only loss coming to Hedrick with Norway’s Havard Bokko second in the Cup chase.
Davis, 28, will have trouble in the 500, where he stands 16th in the World Cup chase, and in the 5,000 and 10,000, where he ranks 10th.
South Koreans Lee Kang-Seok, who has not won since the season opener, and Lee Kyou-Hyuk, who won the last three pre-Olympic races, are 500m favorites.
Canada’s Jeremy Wotherspoon, the 500m world record-holder, owns a record 67 World Cup wins but Olympic gold has eluded him. He settled for silver in 1998, falling at the start in 2002 and finishing ninth in 2006.
Dutchman Sven Kramer is a three-time reigning world champion at 5,000 and 10,000. The 2006 Olympic 5,000 runner-up at 19 is favored for gold in all three events but Bokko, last year’s 5,000 and 10,000 world runner-up, could surprise.
European and Asian stars will test host-nation heroines on the women’s side.
Germany’s Jenny Wolf, a three-time 500 world champion who broke her own world record in December, has six World Cup wins this season.
China’s Wang Beixing, a four-time 500 worlds runner-up, has two wins this season and joins Korean Lee Sang-Hwa and Japan’s Nao Kodaira as a threat.
Australian-born Canadian Christine Nesbitt, the 1,000m world champion, is 4-for-4 in the World Cup season. Nesbitt is also a 1,500 threat, ranking second to compatriot and 2006 Olympic runner-up Kristina Groves in the Cup standings.
Dutch star Ireen Wust and 2002 Olympic champion Anni Friesinger of Germany also will contend.
Five-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes of Canada will try to defend her 5,000m title but Czech reigning world champion and world record-holder Martina Sablikova is favored.
Canada, which set a team pursuit world record in December, also boasts five-time 2006 medalist Cindy Klassen, the reigning 1,500m Olympic champion who is recovering from surgery on both knees.