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Shani makes history Davis captures gold in 1,000-meter skate

"Come on, Shani," Reginald Shuck, his father, whispered from the stands. "Come on." The swiftest of the 1,000-meter U.S. speedskaters rounded the final turn, pushing harder off each blade, moving like a blur around the large oval. Shani Davis kept pushing, toward gold -- and more.

Chad Hedrick, Davis' outspoken competitor more than a teammate, needed to be caught. Olympic history -- never had a black man won gold at a Winter Games -- needed to be claimed.

And Reginald Shuck needed to know there was some payoff for a 6-year-old boy taking up a sport almost no black children from Chicago do.

"I remember when he was little and nobody believed in his ability to do well at the sport," Shuck said. "People didn't take him seriously. This would be vindication for him."

The clock read 1 minute, 8.89 seconds, more than half a second better than Hedrick, who would finish sixth. American Joey Cheek started blindingly quick but finished .27 seconds behind Davis, the lone wolf of the U.S. team -- and new Olympic champion.

Davis became the first black athlete to capture a Winter Games gold medal in an individual sport. His victory came four years after Vonetta Flowers, the bobsledder from Alabama, made history at the 2002 Salt Lake Games as the first black athlete to win gold.

Cheek made it a 1-2 U.S. finish, completing his Olympic collection with a silver medal. He won a bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002 in the 1,000 meters and won gold in the 500 here last week, donating his $25,000 prize money from the U.S. Olympic Committee to Right To Play, the charity foundation of Norway speedskating legend Johan Olav Koss. He gave another $15,000 on Saturday night, lending some feel-good humanitarianism to an otherwise catty affair.

Davis' victory quelled, for the moment, the unpatriotic talk after Davis opted to sit out of the team pursuit to concentrate on his specialty. Hedrick sniped at Davis afterward, saying he would have done whatever was best for the U.S. team, which finished fourth without Davis.

Essentially, Hedrick logged six more miles on ice two nights ago than Davis, whose motto since 2002 might as well have been: There is no team in speedskating, but there is an I.

"Chad wishes he could have motivated Shani to help him win the gold," said Shuck. "But Shani has to take care of Shani. Because in the last Olympics, nobody took care of him."

Davis was an alternate on the 2002 team but was not chosen to compete, and thereafter vowed he would never take a spot from a speedskater if he were concentrating on individual events.

In 2005, Davis' athletic agreement was terminated by U.S. Speedskating for violating a sponsorship clause in his contract. Davis failed to remove the logo of a European sponsor from his racing suit and replace it with Qwest, which became the organization's official sponsor that year. As a result of that dispute, Davis will not allow U.S. Speedskating to post his biography on its Web site.

"If he thinks it's him against the rest of the world then it's him who pitted himself against the rest of the world," said American Casey FitzRandolph, who finished ninth. Regarding whether Davis made the right decision to skip the team pursuit -- and possibly cost the U.S. a medal, he added, "It's hard to argue with his decision not to do it. It worked."

The fallout led to the Davis and Hedrick camps feuding, with Hedrick's people essentially accusing Davis of ruining any chance Hedrick had of duplicating Eric Heiden's five gold medals in one Olympics. The respective families sat across the ice from each other on Saturday, watching their offspring and making sure they didn't root for their rival countrymen.

Hedrick, who still has the 1,500 and 10,000 remaining -- he holds world records in both -- was skating the 1,000 for only the seventh time. He boasted of his world marks afterward and sounded thoroughly unexcited about Davis' historic night.

"Shani's skated fast, that's all I can say," he said, unsmiling.

Erben Wennemars of the Netherlands captured the bronze before an orange-crush packed oval of Dutch fans.

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