Dutch skater Tuitert captures ‘King’s Race’
RICHMOND, British Columbia – All alone, his pace reduced to a deliberate glide, Shani Davis circled the Richmond Olympic Oval. His hands were folded behind his back. His head was bowed only slightly, his face devoid of detectible emotion and his eyes looking nowhere in particular.
From behind his right shoulder came Mark Tuitert, a brilliant smile etched on his face, the flag of the Netherlands held aloft. The pro-Dutch crowd, agents orange one and all, roared. The house oompah band, Kleintje Pils, was at full blare. Davis never looked up as the gale of joy blew by.
The Chicago native again had completed the race he always has wanted to win – the “King’s Race,” as he called it. And as it was four years ago, Davis’ desire for Olympic gold in 1,500-meter speedskating was left wanting, his time of 1:46.10 good only for a second straight silver medal Saturday.
Gold did not go to Davis, the world record-holder. It did not go to U.S. teammate Chad Hedrick, who also sought atonement for what occurred in Turin, Italy, in 2006. It instead went to Tuitert, a 1,000-meter specialist who somehow set a track record in a longer race on tougher ice.
“It was the best I could do,” Davis said. “I came across the line, I heard the oohs and ahs, and I’m like, ‘Me? Oh, Mark.’ But that’s just the way of the sport. Any given day, people can go out and achieve greatness. This happened to me in (Turin). And now it happens to me in Vancouver four years later. I have to accept it, and hopefully I can get stronger from it.”
It was almost tragicomedy, the way in which the particulars of this race matched those of the 1,500-meter event in the 2006 Winter Games. Davis and Hedrick were favorites then, and Italy’s Enrico Fabris stunningly usurped the moment.
Save the bubbling animosity between Davis and Hedrick that plagued 2006, the day offered an eerie reprise at which the U.S. skaters could only shrug. Tuitert became the first Dutch skater to win Olympic gold in the 1,500 in 38 years.
“This is the second time in a row than Shani and I got the race stolen from us,” said Hedrick, who won bronze in ’06 and finished a disappointing sixth this time. “We go in as heavy favorites every time, and some special skater that day comes in and beats us.”
Hedrick was undone by emotion, crying before the race – it would be his last individual effort at the Olympics – and then “panicking” during it, in his words.
He never approached Tuitert’s pace and finished in 1:46.69.
“Thirty-one years I worked just for this race,” Hedrick said.
“I came up short today but left it all out there.”
In that, Davis may have found common ground with Hedrick at last. He noted that he carries a card that reads “Underdog,” a reminder not to fall into psychological traps. The 1,500 is his favorite race, he said. Everything pointed to his winning this, but he skated off-pace all race.
Davis made history anyway, the only U.S. men’s skater to medal in the 1,500 in back-to-back Olympics. It was small consolation.
Had he won, Davis said he was contemplating a break. This assured he would vie for the throne in 2014.
“I’ll be honest, it hurts, but everybody out there skating wants to win,” Davis said. “Today I wasn’t able to. … I don’t see it as me losing, because I put everything into the race, and it was a silver medal.
“But still, someday, I want to be able to win this race.”
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