APNewsBreak: US star Shani Davis won’t skate all 5 individual events at Vancouver

By Paul Newberry, AP
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shani Davis won’t skate 5 events at Olympics

Shani Davis decided four Olympic races is enough.

The U.S. speedskating star had a shot at duplicating Eric Heiden’s feat of competing in all five individual events at the Winter Games, a schedule that would have put him in races ranging from 500 to 10,000 meters.

But when it came time to make the final call, Davis backed out on the longest race at Vancouver.

Guy Thibault, the high-performance director at U.S. Speedskating, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Davis withdrew his name from the 10,000 before a Jan. 17 deadline for final entries to be submitted to the international skating federation. Jonathan Kuck will take Davis’ place.

“He basically told us he was not interested in doing the 10K anymore,” Thibault said in a telephone interview from U.S. Speedskating headquarters in suburban Salt Lake City.

In an interesting twist, Kuck was the one added to the Olympic squad as the fourth member of team pursuit after Davis decided not to skate that event and took the spot vacated by Chad Hedrick in the 10,000. Now, Kuck is not only replacing Davis in the team pursuit, he’s also taking over for him in the 10,000.

Trevor Marsicano was next up to replace Davis, but he passed. Ryan Bedford will be the other American entry in the grueling event.

“I’m sure Shani knew already that doing all five was a big thing. That was a big task to do,” Thibault told the AP. “He didn’t want to close any doors, so he could see how things were going in training, before he decided he needs to cut one. Looking realistically at his chances of doing good in that distance, he didn’t really feel it was essential to skate it.”

Davis, who became the first black athlete to win a Winter Olympics individual gold at the 2006 Turin Games, did not respond to messages sent through his personal Web site or his cell phone.

But U.S. Speedskating officials said it was probably a smart move since Davis wasn’t a serious medal contender in the 10,000 and training for the longest event might have adversely affected his preparations for his two best events: the 1,000 and 1,500. He holds the world records and is favored to win gold in both.

“I respect what he’s doing. He has a plan he’s trying to follow,” said national all-around coach Derek Parra, who doesn’t work directly with Davis. “I’m sure he’s more focused on the middle-distance races and wants to do well in those. He has a tremendous shot at winning two golds, that’s for sure.”

Davis will still have a busy schedule in Vancouver. In addition to his two best events, he’s considered an outside medal contender in the 500 and the 5,000. But giving up the 10,000 costs him a shot at being the first American to replicate Heiden’s 1980 schedule, when he became the only speedskater ever to win all five individual events at a single Olympics.

“I want Shani to be the best at what he does,” Thibault said. “I would rather him focus on the distances he can do something in, instead of getting silver and skating everything. I don’t think it’s a disappointment. I think it’s a smart move and he’s trying to come out of the games with the best result he can get in his best events.”

Kuck was glad to take on the extra workload.

“He’s real excited about it,” said his coach, Paul Marchese. “Everyone wants to skate an individual event at the Olympics. Now, he’s got his shot.”

Before Davis backed out of the 10,000, the U.S. was faced with a likely dilemma over Kuck’s spot on the team.

The International Skating Union, the governing body for speedskating, had told the Americans that it probably wouldn’t accept any skaters who were only entered in team pursuit in order to keep the number of athletes in Vancouver at acceptable levels.

Thibault said he’s not sure if that played into Davis’ decision.

“That was an issue prior to Shani declining (his spot in the 10,000),” Thibault said. “The ISU came back to us and said they had too many skaters at the games. They’re in the reduction process right now. We did get a communication that they would not accept skaters who were just doing team pursuit. That was different than what they had been saying the last few years.”

With Davis backing out of the 10,000, Kuck’s spot on the team is secure.

“We didn’t have to argue that because the spot came open. That solved the problem,” Thibault said. “I don’t know if Shani was aware of the situation. That might be why he opted out of the 10K.”

Davis didn’t have the option of getting back in the mix for team pursuit, an event that led to controversy in 2006 when he was criticized by Hedrick for declining to take part.

Though Davis had expressed interest in racing team pursuit in Vancouver, he didn’t submit his name for the pool of candidates by the Dec. 24 deadline.

“I don’t know if he spoke about it or asked about it,” Thibault said. “But the door closed back in December. The team has been named already.”

AP Sports Writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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