Our Game 2: Shani Davis Is Speed Skating’s Black Magic 

Shani Davis is a black speed skater. But all that is old news.

The 31-year-old Chi-Town native has been the dominant speed skater at the middle distances for almost a decade. He has 57 World Cup wins, more than any speed skater except the Canadian legend Jeremy Wotherspoon.

In 2006, he became the first African-American to win an individual Winter Olympic gold. In 2010, he became the first man to repeat in the 1,000.

He’s already run the gamut of greatness in his craft. Davis has set a total of eight world records, three of them current.

Davis has endured the lows of a controversy. Early in his Olympic career, his ethics and ability was questioned in a debacle that clouded his first Team USA qualification in 2002.

And while some peers have accused Davis in the past of being "for self," he’s globally recognized as “that dude” when it comes to doing Lamborghini mph numbers on the ice. Call him speed skating’s George Gervin.

The only thing left for Davis to accomplish before riding off into the sunset as The G.O.A.T. was to win the 1,000 meters on Wednesday. He was a huge favorite entering the event and a win would immortalize Davis as the first male speed skater to win gold in the same event in three consecutive Olympic Games. Shaun “Mr. Multifaceted” White had the same opportunity on Tuesday but failed to even make the podium in the men's snowboard halfpipe.

The Olympic gods would treat Davis with similar disfavor when Netherlands' Stefan Groothuis claimed gold in the men's 1,000 meters, well ahead of Davis who finished behind the top group in eighth place. If this was the World Series, we could cue the “Mighty Casey has struck out,” audio.

Davis was as bewildered as anyone with his performance which rocked the skating world and was another unexpectingly poor performance by a US Olympian in Russia. 

"There's no excuse," Davis said. "I just didn't have the speed I've always had."I felt fast in the open, but after that, I don't know. I have to look at the film and see. I'm not shocked; I'm very in tune with reality. But I'm disappointed."

What can you do? Even Muhammad Ali took L’s. As it stands, just two female skaters have achieved an Olympic three-peat: USA's Bonnie Blair, who won gold in the speed skating 500 in 1988, 1992 and 1994, and Germany's Claudia Pechstein in the 5,000 in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Davis did caution against shedding too many tears for him as his Olympic conquest isn’t complete and he doesn’t feel his legacy was riding on the 1,000 meters in Sochi.

"It was a bonus, but it wasn't the thing I was looking to do," Davis said of his failed attempt at Olympic history. "If I make history, great, but first and foremost I wanted to win the race. I'll just have to get over it. In a few days I have the 1,500 meter race and I'll try to win a medal there."

It’s a good-money bet that he’ll do better than 8th place, but even if he doesn’t, Davis’ spot in the Olympic VIP section is already preserved. He was one of those diamonds in the rough that was destined to be a barrier-breaker and racial bridge-builder.

You know the pedigree. Pioneering mavens like Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe and more recently Tiger Woods and NASCAR sensation Bubba Wallace. His rise was typical of such dudes.

His father, Reginald Shuck, picked his name (Shani) out of a Swahili dictionary. The English translation ironically means a mixture of "light" and "weight.” Davis learned to roller skate at the age of 2 and by three he became a speed hazard at local skating rinks, often chastised by the rink’s guards for his aggressive and swift maneuvering.

It just so happened, Davis’ mom worked for a local lawyer who was also a speed skating official. At the lawyer's suggestion, his mother enrolled her son at the Robert Crown Center in nearby Evanston  when he was six years old.

Within two months, Davis was winning regional races in his age groups and quickly locked down his area before embarking on a legendary career – his unusually tall 6-2 frame slicing through the ice in an aerodynamic body suit, waving his arms like wings on a bird.

It didn’t happen on Wednesday, but more often than not – from Chi Town to Sochi – Davis has pumped his fists in the winner’s circle. Anything he manages to accomplish in his last Olympics is just ice on a snowy mountain top. He’s already proved everything he wanted to.  

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.