- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shani Davis will be chasing history at the Sochi Olympics.

For Sven Kramer and Claudia Pechstein, it’s all about making up for the ones that got away.

The longtime star of the U.S. team, Davis has a shot at becoming the first male speedskater to win the same event at three straight Winter Games. He took gold in the 1,000 meters at both Turin and Vancouver.

“Anytime I step out on the ice and I put my hood on, I have something to prove,” said Davis, who also claimed silver medals in the 1,500 at the last two Olympics. “It’s not easy. These guys are getting stronger and stronger.”

The 31-year-old Chicagoan leads what might be the deepest American squad since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, with Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe also in the mix for multiple medals.

But Kramer and his Dutch teammates look like the ones to beat at the big oval along the Black Sea.

Four years ago, Kramer easily took gold in the 5,000 and would’ve been on top of the podium in the 10,000 if not for a coaching mistake. He was directed to the wrong lane during a routine crossover on the backstretch and disqualified, a baffling error that makes him even more determined to capture both events in Sochi.

“I want to make it into something beautiful,” the three-time Olympian said in a recent interview with the NOS network. “I am not just there for the Olympic spirit. I already have had that.”

Even though Kramer is again an overwhelming favorite in the two longest events, he is taking nothing for granted.

Vancouver taught him that.

“Things are certainly not as self-evident as it sometimes seems,” he said.

Just ask Pechstein, who is getting ready for her sixth Olympics as she approaches her 42nd birthday.

While the German has five Olympic golds and nine medals overall, her career feels incomplete. She’s still miffed about missing the Vancouver Games while serving a two-year ban for doping, a case that didn’t involve a positive drug test; instead, the International Skating Union cited irregular blood levels.

Pechstein vehemently denied ever taking banned drugs, spurring her to keep skating at an age when most athletes have long since retired.

“When I was robbed by the ISU of my chance to compete in my sixth Olympics in Vancouver, I swore to myself: You are going to be in Sochi and you are going to try to win your 10th Olympic medal,” Pechstein said. “A medal is my dream.”

Pechstein has some stout competition at her best distances, the 3,000 and 5,000.

Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won both events in Vancouver and returns to defend her titles. Then there’s Ireen Wust of the Netherlands, who heads into the Olympics on quite a roll after claiming her third European allround title in early January.

“I am leaving for Sochi high on confidence,” said Wust, who looks like the skater to beat in both the 1,500 and 3,000. “I don’t think I have ever been this good.”

Richardson and Bowe are former inline skaters who have become best friends. They room together, train together and are looking forward to competing for much of the same hardware in Sochi.

The Americans are 1-2 in the World Cup rankings in the 1,000, with Richardson on top and Bowe setting a world record in November on the fast ice at the Utah Olympic Oval. Richardson could also make the podium in the 500 and is coming on strong in the 1,500, beating Bowe in that event at the U.S. Olympic trials.

“We both want to win, so we go out and push each other hard,” Richardson said. “It’s a good quality to take us to the next level.”

While Richardson competed in Vancouver, the 25-year-old Bowe is more of a late bloomer on the ice, having also played college basketball at Florida Atlantic. After watching the Vancouver Games on television, she was inspired to return to skating - only with blades on her feet instead of wheels.

Bowe quickly emerged as one of the world’s best in both the 1,000 and 1,500.

“How fast I have progressed has been surprising,” she said. “Hopefully I can just continue to improve and find myself on the podium in Sochi.”

With Davis, Richardson, Bowe and Brian Hansen, the U.S. might have its strongest squad since the one that took eight medals in Salt Lake City.

“I’m happy that the level of competition in America has risen so high,” Davis said. “It’s only going to make us stronger.”


AP Sports Writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed to this report.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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