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Bad blood on the boil

Feud between Hedrick and Davis is classic theater

Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2006 7:14PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 11:44AM
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After winning gold in the 1,000, Shani Davis  earned his second medal of the Games, adding a silver in the 1,500.
After winning gold in the 1,000, Shani Davis earned his second medal of the Games, adding a silver in the 1,500.
Al Tielemans/SI
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TURIN, Italy -- Maybe these Games are on backwards. A competition that includes ski jumping and skeleton has its most dangerous moments at ice dancing. And locker-room dissing is taking place a mile from the hockey arena, at traditionally cozy, brotherly speedskating.

What happened on Tuesday night at the Oval Lingotto is about five steps beyond the Jamaican bobsled team on the absurdity meter. We need Tonya and Nancy just to recapture our sanity.

Before we discuss Tuesday night's postrace press conference, before everyone in Turin -- including the protagonists -- rewrites history to indicate that Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis never had an opinion of one another, let's go back to a phone conversation Hedrick had with Sports Illustrated back in November.

"I like Shani," Hedrick told the magazine. "Shani's cool. We both come from different backgrounds, not traditional speedskating backgrounds. That'll give 'em something to talk about."

So hold that thought. File it away as a starting point, as incongruous as it is, for the bizarre chapter of the speedskating folklore we witnessed on Tuesday.

Some background: In a wildly successful Olympics for the men's long-track speedskating, Hedrick won the 5,000 meters on Feb. 11 and Davis won the 1,000 last Saturday. Everyone is talking about what happened in between, when Davis chose to skip the team pursuit, claiming he needed the preparation time for the 1,000. Hedrick, preparing for the same race, decided to skate in the pursuit because, as he said, he was a team player.

Then everyone jumped in and started mentioning who said what about whom, and, well, you had the speedskating version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

On Tuesday, Davis and Hedrick skated in separate pairs in the 1,500 meters. Davis finished second, Hedrick third. Before he fades into blurry agate in U.S. papers, Enrico Fabris won a very dramatic race for the home country. He will be the lead picture in all the local papers today, but that is a matter of perception. The most memorable stuff happened after the race.

Davis and Hedrick both hugged Fabris and congratulated him on his victory, but certainly not together. They never quite acknowledged one another, even as they took part in a flower ceremony at the arena -- medals are handed out later in downtown Turin -- and they were lucky to pose with Fabris in between them.

Fabris passed through the mixed zone and gleefully headed upstairs long before Davis and Hedrick headed through the downstairs hallway. The U.S. skaters both expressed muted joy and some disappointment over getting a medal but not winning the race. But they disagreed on the rivalry or lack thereof.

"I'm really glad we weren't in the same pair today," said Hedrick. "We would have been trying to kill each other.... I don't enjoy this feud with Shani."

Davis had a different view.

"I'm not motivated by trying to beat Chad," he said. "We're competitors fighting for the same thing. I would have skated the same race if I had skated with anybody. We don't have a feud."

That was an appetizer.

Once the skaters arrived in a crowded press room upstairs, they sat far apart on opposite sides of a table. They handled questions with courtesy for the better part of 20 minutes, but things deteriorated rapidly, as if the dam of discretion burst. At a time when a sport with attitude, snowboarding, has taken over the front pages, was the rivalry between them good for the staid world of speedskating?

The exchange went like this:

"It's not like we're gonna fight each other, roll around in the snow," Davis said. He then pointed out that a European press that was more knowledgeable about the sport would be concentrating more about the intricacies of the racing. "They don't highlight everyone's belch and fart," he added.

Hedrick disagreed. "We have a difference of opinion," he said. "I think it's great. It's Shani and me. The folks at home want to see the battle."

Davis disagreed with the disagreement. "This is not a heavyweight boxing fight," he said. "I totally disagree. Skating is about doing your best. There's more than just Chad and Shani competing.... I think it's better if people respect the sport of speedskating and not try to turn it into boxing, football and NASCAR."

Then someone asked the skaters how long they thought they would stay with their sport. "I think I'll skate as long as my heart desires," Davis said. Hedrick sounded weary. He talked about the years in the sport and his outside interests, including acting in Hollywood someday.

That set off Davis, who proclaimed himself "not a phony," not the type, he said, "who would act in Hollywood." The room hushed. As if to catch himself, Davis added, "Not talking about Chad, but ..."