LIANE HANSEN, Host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Last night at the Winter Olympics, the United States continued its dominance of men's speedskating. American athletes now have won all three individual speedskating events, but last night's thousand meter victory by 23-year-old Shani Davis stood out. Davis became the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold medal in the Winter Games.
From Turin, Italy, NPR's Tom Goldman has more.
TOM GOLDMAN: At first, Shani Davis looked slow. On the start line, he didn't appear to crouch as low as the other skaters or explode as much at the gun. But whatever Davis may have lacked at the beginning of the race, he made up for at the end.
His powerful trademark finish put him in first place in the 1,000 meters, a distance he's dominated all season long. The next pair of skaters included Davis' teammate, Joey Cheek, already a gold medal winner in the 500 meters. Cheek got off to his usual blazing start. As Davis watched, he looked cool on the outside; inside, he said later, he was screaming.
SHANI DAVIS: I want a medal too! I want a gold medal! That's what I was saying! And I don't know if he heard me, but if he did, thanks!
GOLDMAN: Cheek slowed just enough to give Davis his gold medal, by a blade-thin 27-hundredths of a second.
As a six-year-old growing up in Chicago, Shani Davis actually would joke with friends about winning the Olympic 1,000 meters. With the joke now a reality, Davis was asked about the bigger meaning, whether the victory was socially significant.
DAVIS: I would say it would be if this sport was a bigger sport and it was more recognized by, you know, minorities and things like that. But since it isn't, I think that it's, it's still a breakthrough. But I mean it's what people make of it, you know. If people in America are excited and thrilled to have a black Olympic champion in speedskating, you know, I'm happy that I can make people happy.
GOLDMAN: Teammate Chad Hedrick was not so happy last night. Hedrick came into these Olympics saying he wanted to match Eric Heiden's five speedskating gold medals from the 1980 Olympics. After finishing sixth in the 1,000, Hedrick was asked about Davis' historic win. Shani skated fast today, Hedrick said. That's about all I have to say about that. Here's Davis' reaction.
DAVIS: I mean, sure, he's going to be a little sore about it, because he wants to win just as much as I want to win. So it's kind of normal, I would think, to have, you know, kind of hard feelings. But (unintelligible) said I skated fast, I mean that's nice.
GOLDMAN: But Hedrick's hard feelings may go beyond a sixth place finish in the thousand. Last week, Davis decided not to compete in a new team event called the Pursuit. He and his coach felt it was too close to the thousand, Davis' best event, and that it might hurt Davis' chances for victory. Hedrick was quoted as saying, If he does skate in the Pursuit, we can't be beat.
As it turned out, the U.S., without Davis, didn't win a medal, and the controversy grew. Davis says he got hateful, racist messages on his website. Hedrick and other speedskaters criticized Davis for not being a team player, a criticism leveled in the past, partly because Davis trains in Canada, away from most of his teammates.
For all the talk about team, Davis reminded reporters last night that speedskating is an individual event. And Chad Hedrick, who won the 5,000 meters last weekend, should know that as well as anyone, said Davis.
DAVIS: If the shoe was on the other foot, would Chad, would he have skated the team pursuit if the team pursuit was a day before the 5,000? You have to ask yourself that. We will never know, so I'm not going to pass judgment on Chad. I mean, people do what's best for them.
GOLDMAN: Not everyone. For instance, the guy sitting next to Davis at the press conference, silver medalist Joey Cheek already has established himself as someone who can put others first. He donated his $25,000 in gold medal earnings to refugee relief in Africa. And last night he donated his $15,000 second place award to the same program.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, Turin.
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