- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

TURIN, Italy — Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis went at it on and off the ice yesterday — and both lost. Yet they continued to furnish the best story line of this drama-deprived Winter Olympics.

The feisty, aggressive long-track speedskaters battled each other instead of the clock in the 1,500 meters at the Oval Lingotto and verbally slapped each other around in a postrace press conference, with Davis eventually walking out.

In a race that was supposed to come down to a “mano a mano” between the two, Enrico Fabris of Italy won the gold medal before the home folk. Davis had to settle for the silver medal and Hedrick the bronze.

They are U.S. teammates with totally different backgrounds and sensibilities, and clearly they don’t like each other. And now they are destined to be forever linked, like the Olympic rings.

After the race, Davis confirmed what had been suspected, that he was insulted that Hedrick did not shake his hand nor otherwise acknowledge his victory in the 1,000 meters on Saturday. It was a big moment for Davis, who became the first black man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

When Hedrick won the 5,000 meters at the start of the games, Davis was right there to congratulate him.

After both mostly downplayed the rivalry and blamed the media for blowing it up yesterday, Davis said, “I’ll be honest with you. Sure, Chad and I are fighting for the same thing, but it would have been nice after the 1,000 if he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand just like I hugged him after he won the 5,000 meters.”

There, he finally said it.

Yesterday, Hedrick did shake Davis’ hand. Which prompted Davis to mutter, as he was leaving, “Typical Chad. He shakes my hand when I lose.”

Hedrick, in turn, ripped Davis for refusing to compete in a new event, the team pursuit, last week because he wanted to be rested for the 1,000 meters. Hedrick competed, and the U.S. team finished out of medal contention. Going into the Olympics, Hedrick had talked about winning five gold medals.

“We’re all part of Team USA,” he said during the press conference. “We had a good opportunity to win the team-pursuit race. I felt betrayed. It had nothing to do with me wanting five medals. Not only did he not participate, he didn’t even discuss it with me as a team leader. We passed up a medal. I felt betrayed in a way.”

Hedrick even brought basketball legend Michael Jordan into the discussion, a no-no as far as Davis, a big Jordan fan, is concerned. Hedrick said something about Jordan being a team player, to which Davis replied, “I’ve never seen him act in an unprofessional manner when it comes to losing.”

Davis and Hedrick are two of the fastest people on skates and the oddest of couples. Davis is from Chicago’s South Side, the first black speedskater to become an Olympian. He started skating at age 6. Hedrick is a former in-line skating star from Houston who has been involved in speedskating for about four years.

“We’re totally different people,” he said.

Yet both are outspoken and headstrong. Davis broke with the governing body, U.S. Speedskating, over sponsorship issues. His mother, Cherie, has strongly criticized the organization. For his part, Hedrick is brash and will say just about anything.

The two never socialized, nor had they really been friends. But the relationship took a sour turn after Davis skipped the team pursuit. Hedrick reacted strongly to that, talking about how important it was to compete for team and country. Without mentioning Davis, it was clear that he was accusing him of being selfish.

Against that backdrop and with their standing as perhaps the two best long-track skaters in the world, the 1,500 meters could have been billed as the Texas Tornado vs. the Chi-town Champ. Had they actually been paired together, “We would have been trying to kill each other,” Hedrick said.

But Fabris was the winner with a time of 1:45.97.

With all the attention focused on Davis and Hedrick, a local guy beat them both before the cheering hometown crowd and the usual vast contingent of Dutch fans. Fabris took a couple of victory laps, went into the stands a few times to embrace anything that moved and wore a smile as big as the Alps.

Davis, who was charged with a false start, won the silver medal with a time of 1:46.13. Hedrick took the bronze in 1:46.22. Afterward, Davis hugged Fabris a couple of times and stood and acknowledged the crowd. Hedrick sat and kept to himself.

Hedrick admitted that he was trying too hard to beat Davis and that he got too caught up in the rivalry. He went too fast too soon and did not have enough left at the finish.

“All the eyes have been on Shani and I the whole time, and it put a lot of pressure on us,” Hedrick said. “We didn’t execute our game plan today because we were so worried about beating each other.

“In this sport, we’re racing against the clock, we’re not racing against the person. And when you don’t execute the game plan, things can go south real quick. … I don’t think anything’s been solved tonight with Shani and I getting second and third. Neither of us came here to get second or third.”

Davis, however, said he wasn’t thinking about Hedrick.

“I’m not motivated by trying to beat Chad,” he said. “Chad is one person. There are a field full of competitors out there trying to win a gold medal.”

Even though they wear the same colors and salute the same flag and their medals are added to the same column under the same country, Hedrick and Davis have advanced a spirited rivalry into the realm of resentment and bad feeling.

“I didn’t enjoy this feud with Shani,” Hedrick said after the race but before the press conference.

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