Shani creates more cool history

By Philip Hersh
Updated: January 19, 2009

MOSCOW – Shani Davis has joined speedskating legend Eric Heiden as the only men ever to win world championships in both sprint and all-around.

Sunday in Moscow, where he had become the first black athlete to win the world all-around title four years ago, Davis scored a stunning triumph in the two-day sprint championships, which consist of two races each at 500 and 1,000 meters.

“This ice likes me very much,” Davis told the media after Sunday’s races.

Davis won both 1,000s and finished sixth and 10th in the 500s to beat Keiichiro Nagashima of Japan in an event based on aggregate times in the four races. Simon Kuipers of the Netherlands was third.

The Wisconsin-bred Heiden won four titles in the sprint championships, first held officially in 1972, and three in the all-arounds, which date to 1893. He also won five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

“Anytime you do something that Eric Heiden did, you are in rare company,” said Olympic champion Dan Jansen, a two-time world sprint winner. “It is a very impressive accomplishment for Shani.”

Davis, 26, won Olympic gold in the 1,000 and silver in the 1,500 in 2006 and took a second world all-around title that year.

“Shani looks good to successfully defend his 1,000 title (at the 2010 Winter Olympics) in Vancouver,” Jansen said.

Davis caught a break Sunday when South Korea’s Lee Kyou Hyuk, winner the last two years, fell on the first turn of the final race, the 1,000 meters. But Lee would have needed a nearly perfect race to hold the lead he had after three events on Davis, who set a track record in the finale.

“I would have liked for Lee to stay on his feet and see what it would bring him,” Davis said.

Davis, known more as a middle-distance skater before the ’06 Olympics, finished third at the world sprints in 2007 and won his first U.S. sprint title in December.

“This year I wanted to focus more on sprints, and I will not skate the (world) all-arounds,” Davis said. “Since I have an all-around background, I have the better condition for a second day of skating, so I had an advantage, but I also had to come with speed.”

That was evident not only in the 1,000 but in Sunday’s 500, in which Davis’ time of 35.18 was just 0.01 off his personal best. This performance was more impressive because it did not come at altitude, as his best had, and because he was skating on Moscow ice so brittle it caused several skaters to fall.

“He had an awesome 500, and that’s really where he won the title today,” said Ryan Shimabukuro, the U.S. sprint coach.

Said Davis: “I had to start with a good 500 and try to put pressure on skaters ahead of me. It worked, and I am the happiest man in Moscow.”