Shani Davis, Shaun White Defend Olympic Gold

Two American men successfully defended their Olympic titles in Vancouver Wednesday night. Shani Davis became the first speedskater to win the men's 1,000 meters twice. Snowboarder Shaun White won the halfpipe. White thrilled the crowd by capping his second run with his signature trick, the risky 3½ twists and two flips of the Double McTwist 1260.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The United States stole the show at the Olympics, yesterday, taking six medals in one day for the first time ever. Three were golds that went to America's most famous Olympians - so big they go by first names: Lindsey, Shaun and Shani. In a moment, we'll hear about Lindsey Vonn's big day in alpine skiing.

First, snowboarder Shaun White and speed skater Shani Davis made some Olympic history last night. From Vancouver, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Shaun White stood at the top of the half pipe last night at Cypress Mountain facing a snowboarder's dilemma: to double McTwist or not. The double McTwist 1260 is a three-and-a-half spin, double end-over-end flip that White created in the never-ending quest to push his sport higher and harder. It's dangerous and it wasn't necessary.

He'd already clinched the gold medal after the first of two runs. But, as he said afterwards, I aim to please. So, he stood at the top, one double McTwist 1260 coming up. His coaches got him ready.

Unidentified Man #1: Just take a breath. They are ready when you are. Just go ahead and go.

Unidentified Man #2: You got it, man.

Unidentified Man #3: Show them what's going on.

Unidentified Man #1: Show them what's up, baby.

Mr. SHAUN WHITE (U.S. Snowboarder): All right.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, Shaun. Bend it.

GOLDMAN: And off he went with a blue bandana with white stars covering his mouth and mixing patriotically with his red hair, White launched himself into the U-shaped half pipe. His height off the half pipe lift was stunning. And as he approached the big moment, he had one thought:

Mr. WHITE: I remember coming around, like you better land this and you got it. And I don't know. I just made it happen - the will to land.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: The double McTwist 1260's landing was shaky but White stayed on his feet. As he skidded to a halt in the finish area, he thrust both arms over his head, only the fourth man from the U.S. to repeat as a Winter Olympic champion. Normally, that warrants a headline by itself, but on this night, Shaun White had to get on line.

(Soundbite of Olympic broadcast)

Unidentified Man #4: Ready.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: A couple of hours earlier, American speed skater Shani Davis exploded off the start line at the Richmond Olympic Oval. He was in the last pair in the 1,000 meter competition. To call the thousand Davis's specialty is underselling - he hadn't lost at that distance once this season. Yet, as he made his way around - the race is two-and-a-half laps - it didn't look like his time was going to beat South Korean Mo Tae-Bum, who had already raced and was in first place.

Mr. SHANI DAVIS (U.S. Speed Skater): I was just trying to carry the speed that I had going. I felt it leaving me, and I said, uh-oh, you got to carry the speed here. Doesn't matter how it looks, you just got to get across the line as fast as you can.

GOLDMAN: So, Davis risked losing his form and rhythm by pumping his arms a few extra times - and it worked.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: Shani Davis won by 18 hundredths of a second. Like Shaun White, a repeat Olympic champion. If Davis's smile was one bookend of the evening, his celebration with teammate Chad Hedrick, who won the bronze, was the other. They waved an American flag together. Significant, because four years ago at the Torino Olympics, media coverage of their personal feud overshadowed their brilliant performances. Chad Hedrick.

Mr. CHAD HEDRICK (U.S. Speed Skater): We left with five medals between two of us - five. I just hope people will look at us in a different light and think, man, those guys are good athletes rather than wondering, you know, who wants to fight with who.

GOLDMAN: They both left smiling last night, but those smiles will fade by Saturday. That's when they'll face off as two of the favorites in the 1,500 meters and try to beat the speed skates off each other.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Vancouver.

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