SOCHI, Russia -- As he stood in front of a throng of journalists and tried to explain himself Wednesday night, Shani Davis was hardly at a loss for words. What he lacked instead was answers.
He had come to Adler Arena expecting to do what he had always done at the Olympics, fly across 1,000 meters of perfectly-shaved ice faster than any other man in the world. In accomplishing this feat at a third straight Olympics, he would have made history. But instead, his eighth-place finish left him with disappointment. Confusion. Frustration. And pain.
"I just got my ass kicked," he said afterward.
It's hardly that simple, of course. Something went wrong. But less than an hour after his humbling defeat, Davis had little idea what it was. Physically, he felt fine. Mentally, as well. Eight hours before the race he had tweeted to his 20,000 followers that he was focused and prepared for his "Battle on the Black Sea." In the final seconds before the race began, he described himself as "calm," "patient" and "cool." He said he felt strong.
But his performance was anything but. At the 600-meter split Davis' time was .54, already three-tenths of a second off the leader, Stefan Groothuis. But it wasn't time to panic. Anyone who has watched Davis over the years knows he's built a reputation as one of the greatest closers his sport has ever seen. But on this night, when Davis pushed his body to dig for more speed, the unthinkable happened. Nothing.
"I was skating hard," he said. "Soooo hard. And it just wasn't there."
Afterward, he didn't know why. Maybe it had something to do with the ice. Perhaps temperatures in the low 60s had something to do with creating softer ice conditions. But every skater had to deal with that. And the Dutch certainly haven't had any problems, after sweeping the 500 and 5,000 and then finishing first and third here on Wednesday night.
"I executed it about maybe 40 percent of the race but the other 60 percent of the race wasn't good skating," Davis said.
Maybe it was the heavily-hyped new racing suit that Under Armour had top secretly designed, promising groundbreaking technology that was supposed to lead to never-before-seen performance.
Or maybe, at 31 years old, this was the beginning of the end. Whatever the case, Davis refused to blame anyone but himself.
"There's no excuse, man. Nothing physical that went wrong or anything else," he said. "I just didn't have the speed in the lap and that's something I've always had against my competitors. That's a part of the race I usually shine in. But today for some reason I wasn't able to do it."
Groothuis, the gold medalist, was equally surprised. He fully admitted he expected Davis -- the world record holder in the event who had won three of four 1,000-meter World Cup races this season -- to beat his time of 1:08.39.
"It's great," he said of winning gold. "But it's also very strange."
In less than 70 seconds, it was all gone. The gold medal. A chance at history. And at the same time, hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential endorsements. This was Shani Davis' Super Bowl. The two weeks every four years when his country notices speedskating. He already had signed deals with McDonald's, United, Under Armour and Ralph Lauren. With Lindsey Vonn unable to compete due to injury, the spotlight was there for Davis, Shaun White and Bode Miller to steal and then capitalize on back on Madison Ave. But White failed in his attempted three-peat Tuesday night. Davis did the same on Wednesday. And Miller disappointed in the first of his four races earlier in the week.
"I'm an American," Davis said. "This is where I bank in. And I didn't do that today. If I would have won this race, who knows the possibilities? But I didn't. And that's something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life."
When pressed for words to describe what it felt like to not capitalize on such an opportunity, especially as the No. 1 ranked skater in the world, Davis confessed, "None that I can tell anyone here. Such is life."
Davis has 72 hours to figure out what went wrong. Scheduled for Friday night is the Race of Kings, the 1,500-meter jaunt, a distance at which Davis has never won. He's earned silver in the past two Olympics. He planned to watch video of his race on Wednesday as well as that of the dominating Dutch to see what he could figure out. He then said he'd try to apply those answers in his training, hoping that things will turn out different come Friday.
"Obviously I need to figure something out," he said. "And I have to do it pretty quick or it's going to be the same thing in the 1,500 and that would be very, very, very, very bad.
"I have to get over this quick."