No reason for Chad Hedrick to try and spoil Shani Davis' party
TURIN, Italy -- The stories coming out of the Olympic speedskating oval Saturday night were about as feel-good as they get.
There was Shani Davis winning the first individual gold medal by a black athlete in Winter Olympics history by racing to victory in the men's 1,000.
And there was Joey Cheek finishing just behind, then donating his $15,000 reward from the U.S. Olympic Committee to give impoverished kids a place to play.
When Bud Greenspan produces his latest Olympic film, these will be the tearjerkers, the stories that make you want to believe that the Olympics are really what the snobby elite who run them want you to believe. These are real athletes with real Olympic dreams that don't need to be manufactured by NBC.
Davis spent 17 years as an outcast in a primarily white sport, hoping the whole time that someday he would be able to hold an Olympic gold medal. He did, and was joined on the podium by a guy whose idea of glory is being able to help kids who can't help themselves.
The Olympics don't get any better than this.
There was no reason for Chad Hedrick to try and spoil the whole party.
Hedrick, if you haven't heard, doesn't think much of Davis. Thinks even less of him now because Davis declined an invitation to skate in the team pursuit earlier this week and may have cost Hedrick -- who already has one gold medal of his own -- another medal by doing so.
So while Davis and Cheek were still celebrating, Hedrick was beneath the stands griping. Not about his own sixth-place finish, because the 1,000 wasn't his best race, anyway. He was griping about people who don't do everything they can to be a part of a team and help the United States win more medals.
He didn't call Davis out by name. He didn't have to.
"I'm part of team USA," Hedrick said. "I don't care about how it's going to affect my individual race. I'm part of the team."
There's nothing wrong with being patriotic and engaging in a little flag waving. It looks good on TV and probably plays well for Hedrick back home in Texas.
But unless you're a hockey player or a curler, the Olympics aren't about winning one for Team USA. They're a series of mostly individual sports where athletes try and do their best and win one for themselves.
The fact the medals drop into the U.S. win column is just an added bonus.
Bode Miller's first thought at the top of the hill this week likely wasn't how the folks back home would love him to win, but how many more millions he might get out of Nike for doing so. Hedrick himself will do a lot better financially should he come home with multiple golds instead of the one already in his pocket for winning the 5,000.
Maybe that had something to do with Hedrick still not being able to get over Davis' perceived slight two days after the team pursuit. Or maybe he's just a rah-rah kind of guy who got in this speedskating stuff late and doesn't really understand that skaters, whether competing in sequins or speed suits, are basically only in it for themselves.
Davis said as much afterward when he talked about skating since he was 6 years old and joking with friends as a kid that he would someday win the Olympic 1,000. Those friends long ago hung up their skates, but Davis kept after it, knowing that chances for Olympic glory come around only every four years and can be fleeting indeed.
He wasn't approached until a week ago about even being in the team pursuit, and he didn't want to hurt his chances for gold in his best race by throwing off his carefully planned schedule. He didn't apologize for it because he felt he didn't need to. Still doesn't.
But when he should have been enjoying his Olympic moment, Davis had to explain how he was not somehow un-American.
"A lot of people might think I'm unpatriotic or not a team player," he said. "But if the shoe was on the other foot, would he have skated the team pursuit if the team pursuit was a day before the 5,000? We will never know."
Davis was never going to win a medal for being best teammate, even before he came to Turin. He and his mother have long had disputes with U.S. Speedskating, down to refusing to allow his biography to be displayed on the group's Web site. Once in Turin, he stayed to himself, avoiding both the media and the rest of his team.
There was even talk he might blow off the official press conference if he won. Clearly, this is a guy who worries only about himself.
Athletes, though, come with different needs, different motivations and vastly different personalities.
That was never so clear as it was Saturday night when Cheek sat next to Davis at the podium. Cheek won the 500 a few days earlier and donated his $25,000 USOC reward to Right to Play, a charity run by former speedskating star Johann Olav Koss to help children in war-torn areas.
He added $15,000 more to the pot by winning the silver medal, and says his original donation has now grown to $250,000 with corporate matches.
"I'm much more proud of that work than winning a gold medal in the Olympics," Cheek said.
Davis couldn't top that, but he did have his gold. And he had some support from outside his team.
"What the U.S. thinks about Shani Davis doesn't matter," said bronze medalist Erben Wennemars of the Netherlands. "He got the Olympic gold medal, so he's right. He made the right decision."
Hard to argue with that.
Unless you're Chad Hedrick, that is.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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