We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Turin Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
Keep your head down. Don't look.
Do not look at Shani Davis.
Do not look at this man who holds your fate in his skates. Do not look at someone who can make you either eternal in your country or merely a nice story during the Games.
But of course you'll look. You won't look until after the flashbulbs have popped. You won't look until after Davis has false-started. You won't look even after the announcer asked the crowd for silence and the big screen showed your face. You won't look until the heat actually starts. You won't look because you are Enrico Fabris of Italy and in less than two minutes you will either be the King of the Oval or just another Adrian Brody lookalike in a country full of them.
My favorite moment in Turin came during the 1,500 meter long-track speedskating race at the Oval Lingotto on Feb. 21. The race is the speedskating equivalent of the mile, a collision of speed and distance in under two minutes. I came to see Shani Davis vs. Chad Hedrick: Chicago vs. Texas. Black vs. white. The Tiger Woods of speedskating vs. the Paris Hilton of speedskating. I came to watch a battle between American speedskaters and I found myself transfixed on a 24-year-old from Asiago, which used to be known for cheese before Fabris came along.
We view our sporting events, like politics, through a local prism. This is why I love the Olympics. It knocks me into an unfamiliar territory. It makes me humble, stupid and ignorant. I do not know the language. Grazie. Prego. Quento costa?Non capisco. Helpless and desperate, I am forced to see things from another view. Here was a man skating in front of his country who was two minutes away from being famous forever. He had earlier won a bronze in the 5,000 and gold in the team pursuit event, but this was individual gold. This was sporting eternity. What must he be thinking?
Fabris skated in the 17th of 21 parings. He clocked in at 1 minute, 45.97 seconds and then endured an agonizing wait to see if any of the eight remaining skaters could skate him down. Dutchman Erben Wennemars lumbered in at 1:46.71. American and Salt Lake City gold medalist Derek Parra finished 19th. Hedrick, the world-record holder, crossed the line in 1:46.22. A silver medal for Italy, but gold was now for the taking.
Then came Davis.
So as the American lined up for the restart, I watched Fabris. He put his head down. He did not look up until the heat was underway. After 200 meters, Fabris stood up and finally gave in. Davis quickly left Aleksandr Kobalko behind. His 700-meter split was 49.59, the third best of the event, and he cruised in at 1,100 meters in 1:16.96, faster than all but American Joey Cheek. As Davis headed for glory, the crowd rose and so did Fabris from his bench in the middle of the track. Everybody stood up and watched the screen:
Davis shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Someone tossed Fabris his country's flag for him to unfurl during a victory lap. People all over the rink -- Italians, Norwegians, the ever-present Dutch and even Davis -- were clapping and smiling. Across from where I was, a giant banner in the crowd told the story of the night: "Grazie, Enrico."