SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - As hard as he tried, Shani Davis just couldn’t muster the speed to beat his rivals as Father Time caught up with the American.
His bid for an historic third gold medal in the men’s 1,000 meters speedskating ended in disappointment when Davis finished eighth at the Sochi Olympics.
Had he won, the 31-year-old would have been the oldest man to win the event. But that honor went instead to Dutchman Stefan Groothuis, who won his first Olympic gold at the age of 32.
“This one hurts me a lot, but kudos to the people who were able to go out there and achieve their dreams, it’s a great feeling,” Davis said.
“I am not in shock, I am very in tune with reality. I am a bit disappointed but it’s sports - you win some, you lose some.
“If I win the race, great, and if I make history, great, but first and foremost I wanted to win the race.
“I wanted to win the gold medal and if I did that and made history then wonderful. But I wasn’t able to do that so I’m pretty sad, not about making history but winning the medal more than anything.”
For a few fleeting moments, it looked like old times for Davis, who has been heralded as a pioneer in winter sports after he became the first black athlete to win an individual Winter Olympic gold, at Turin eight years ago.
He made a flying start in his heat, charging around the Adler Arena Skating Center with all the power and determination that has taken him to the top.
But on the last lap, with his legs and heart pumping furiously to stave off fatigue, he started to fade.
He crossed the line in one minute 09.12 seconds, nearly three seconds outside the world record he set in Salt Lake City five years ago, and 0.73 behind the flying Dutchman Groothuis.
“There is no excuse. There was nothing physical that was wrong, I just simply didn’t have the second lap and that is something I have always had over my competitors,” he said.
“That is a part of the race where I usually shine, but today for some reason I wasn’t able to do it so I am going to go back to the drawing board, reevaluate, reassess the strategy for the 1,500m race.”
Davis finished second in the 1,500 meters at each of the last two Olympics but the 1,000m was his favorite race, which he affectionately called his baby.
His future beyond Sochi is less clear. He said he has no plans to retire yet and may go to the next Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Regardless of whether he adds to his Olympic medal tally, his list of accomplishments is staggering. He has 10 world titles, has set nine world records and has proven a strong role model for black youths in south Chicago, where he grew up, and the rest of the world.
“I work very hard and I still believe that I work harder than, not most of the people, but everyone I compete against and I take pride in that and today it wasn’t able to show,” he said.
“But my legacy and the history that I have left behind shows that I am a very good skater and today I just wasn’t able to do it.”
His success, though, has not been all plain skating and he has been involved in public spats with team mates and officials.
He qualified for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City only to be hit with accusations that his victory in the U.S. trials was aided by race-fixing. The claims proved unfounded but he withdrew from the Games when he was not selected for the team pursuit and instead competed at the world junior championships, where he won.
Four years later in Turin, he was involved in a public row with team mate Chad Hedrick, who had criticized Davis for not competing in the team pursuit and putting his individual interests first.
After the incident, Davis chose to devise his own training regime, as well as handle his marketing and publicity.
But at the Vancouver Games, when he became the first man to successfully defend the 1,000 meters title, he resolved his differences and set his sights on a third gold in Sochi.
“I look at it as a job and an opportunity to broadcast my talents and my abilities to not only Americans but to the world,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I have built a legacy and a history of doing really well in the Olympics and doing really well in the 1,000 and being able to defend a title.
“But when the world stage is watching with the Americans and NBC watching, I just wasn’t able to do it today so I’m very disappointed in that.”
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Robert Woodward