Shani Davis won’t skate five events at Olympics

  • By PAUL NEWBERRY AP National Writer
  • Wednesday, January 27, 2010 12:03pm
  • SportsSports

U.S. speedskating star Shani Davis won’t be competing in all five individual races at the Vancouver Olympics.

Davis, who became the first black athlete to win a Winter Olympics individual gold at the 2006 Turin Games, had planned to become the first American since Eric Heiden to skate in every individual event, a schedule that would have put him in races ranging from 500 to 10,000 meters.

But Guy Thibault, the high-performance director at U.S. Speedskating, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Davis backed out of 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 added to the Olympic squad as the fourth member of team pursuit after Davis decided not to skate that event, instead opting to take Chad Hedrick’s spot 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. 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 will still have a busy schedule in Vancouver. He’s favored for gold in the 1,000 and 1,500 and is considered an outside medal contender in the 500 and 5,000. But losing out on the 10,000 costs him a shot at replicating 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 the games with the best result he can get in his best events.”

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 likely 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.”

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

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