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Speedskating, juvenile division

TURIN, Italy -- It doesn't happen often enough in sports, but every now and again justice is served with the perfect ending. Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick figured to settle their ongoing feud in the men's 1,500 meters speedskating Tuesday and wound up settling for second and third.

It's exactly what they deserved.

Davis and Hedrick skated into the 2006 Winter Olympics with separate agendas, and that much hasn't changed. About the only agreement they reached as they sat six feet apart for a hilarious news conference was that they disagreed on everything. The Shani-Chad fireworks display confirmed once again

they're farther apart than A and Z.

Once again, they solved nothing while making terrific theater during the most bizarre evening of the Winter Games. It included five spectators from the Netherlands slipping past security and getting kicked out of the news conference after heckling Hedrick. It ended how it began, with two American opposites failing to shake hands.

Shani: "I'll be honest with you. It would have been nice if, after the 1,000 meters, he would have been a great teammate and shook my hand, the way I shook his hand and hugged him after he won the 5,000 meters."

Chad: "Um. Um. Um. I was proud to be part of the Opening Ceremonies. It was really important to me to live the Olympic spirit."

Live the Olympic spirit? These clowns made Kobe and Shaq look like Ernie and Bert. All that was missing were a referee and two linesmen.

Predictably, they attempted to defuse the debate by blaming the media, all the while trading jabs that put them in this position in the first place. Hedrick was still fuming over Davis skipping the team pursuit, which helped ruin Hedrick's quest to win five gold medals. And Davis clearly didn't care.

Chad: "He has a different approach to skating. He has some different opinions, and that's OK. He has the freedom to do whatever he wants to do. If he feels like not doing the team pursuit was going to hurt his 1,000 meters, that's his decision."

Shani: "Chad came here to win five gold medals. That was his goal. What happens when you fall short of your goal? People handle it differently. We're fighting for the same thing. He does what he feels is best for him. I do what's best for me."

Davis resented the notion that their feud will ultimately help speedskating because it drew so much attention to the sport, the way Tonya-Nancy helped lift women's figure skating in 1994. He wasn't interested in being a punching bag for people who otherwise wouldn't give a hoot about speedskating.

"I disagree with Shani once again," Hedrick said. "Americans at home and a lot of people around the world want to see a battle. They want to see who the top two contenders are, see them go at it and see who's the best."

Hedrick suggested he might go into acting, maybe land a job in Hollywood.

Shani: "I'm not a phony person. There's no way I'll ever be a Hollywood actor."

So much for the opposites-attract theory.

Hedrick is from Houston. He's white. He captured 50 world titles in in-line skating. Four years ago, he watched the Olympics on television from Las Vegas, decided to give speedskating a whirl and in no time became a world champion. Davis is black. He started skating when he was 6. He grew up in a rough 'hood on the south side of Chicago and worshipped Michael Jordan.

Hey, whaddya know, Hedrick is a Jordan fan.

"Being from Chicago and a big Michael Jordan fan," Davis said, "I've never seen him act in an unprofessional manner."

Ouch.

Tension had been mounting throughout the Games. Hedrick won the gold medal in the 5,000 meters while Davis finished sixth. Davis won the gold in the 1,000 while Hedrick finished seventh. Hedrick owned the world record in the 1,500 after breaking Davis' mark. Shani-Chad III was supposed to determine the best skater in the world.

And it did.

Italian Enrico Fabris has won two gold medals and a bronze in these Olympics. He became a national hero Tuesday after briefly borrowing the spotlight. It was perfect.

"I didn't enjoy this feud with Shani," Hedrick said. "Shani and I both wanted to win the race. We both wanted to prove to each other who was going to win, and somebody else slid in there and got it from us."

You agree, Shani?

"Nope," he said. "I don't agree with that. He's speaking from his view. From my personal view, I was trying to do my best. I knew the times I had to do, and I went for it. I wasn't strong enough."

It's a shame they weren't paired together for a head-to-head race. Hedrick-Davis III might have turned into Schoeny-Cashman II. What appeared to be a juicy rivalry evolved into "Desperate Housewives" in bodysuits.

Obviously, their act isn't helping their image. Both have presented themselves as arrogant and prickly, which is fine so long as they know they're alienating sponsors and sabotaging potential earnings.

Davis, the first athlete in history who's more charming in person than on TV, damaged his reputation when he blew off NBC. He since claimed he needed to use the bathroom, but apparently he was furious with Bob Costas and took it out on Melissa Stark. Hedrick's response a few days ago when asked about Davis: "Is he my teammate?"

With teammates like them, who needs opponents?

By the way, a similar rivalry evolved a few years ago on the Canadian skeleton team, but you know how Duff Gibson and Jeff Pain handled it? Both realized their selfishness and called a truce. They became training partners and good friends. Gibson won the gold. Pain took the silver and said it "was an honor" to finish second to Gibson.

"We achieved more together than we could have apart," Pain said.

And that's why they got what they deserved, which happened to be gold and silver.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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