Before the 1,000 meters, the Shani Whisperer slipped his client a DVD of The Matrix to make vivid, Mills said, "that a mind without fear, doubts or disbelief will enable you to accomplish what you want. And he had anxiety and doubts before the 1,000."
Those fears weren't unfounded. After 600 meters Davis sat fifth overall, more than a quarter second behind leader Mo Tae-Bum of South Korea, the gold medalist in the 500 meters. Davis called a last-lap audible, swinging both arms twice on the final backstretch instead of keeping his left arm back in aerodynamic position. "I was just trying to carry my speed," he explained afterward. "I could feel it leaving me."
He began the last turn almost recklessly early, but his confidence in the corners—a legacy of his beginnings as a short-track skater—enabled him to carve out the second-best final lap of the day and win what he would call "the hardest race I've ever skated." He offered Hedrick one end of an American flag, which they jointly paraded around the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Saturday's 1,500, Hedrick's best distance, would be like a hyped prizefight, given that Hedrick had been the only skater to defeat Davis in the event during the World Cup season. In advance of the Race of Kings, Mills cued up When We Were Kings, the documentary about the 1974 Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle.
Tuitert had already skated his gold medal time when Hedrick toed the start. He wore like an emotional millstone the realization that this was his final individual race. "I was a little bit of a wreck and lost control of the race and forgot things technically," he said.
Skating in the final pair, Davis labored through the last lap, occasionally showing his teeth from the effort. Having opted out of the team pursuit, he ended an Olympics that were supposed to have put Turin behind him—by duplicating his Turin performance with another 1,500 silver.
Tuitert, 29, is the first Dutchman since Ard Schenk in 1972 to wear the Olympic 1,500 crown. For years he skated at a range of distances, winning a European all-around title in 2004 before becoming a middle-distance specialist in 2008 and picking up a reputation for falling in big races. But he felt his form solidifying over the past weeks, and before the race he actually told a TV interviewer that he thought he would win.
Both Americans struck gracious notes after the race. "The Olympics are all about coming up with one special moment, and Mark did that today," Hedrick said. Added Davis, "Mark deserves it. He's the king."
Asked if he was surprised by Tuitert's win, Davis said, "I've learned not to be surprised after what happened in Torino. The big battle [then] was supposed to be me and Chad, me and Chad, me and Chad, and Enrico snuck up on us. But I still someday want to win this race. It's still my favorite. This will probably keep me in the sport for four more years. If I'd won today, I'd have been complete."
If Davis is not yet a complete entity, he's no longer a solo entity either. The result of the 1,500 ensured that for at least the next quadrennial, Shani and Chad will remain yoked in Olympic lore, like Torvill and Dean. They'll be known for their early enmity, common achievements, eventual détente and, until Davis laces up his skates in Sochi, the hole in their résumés.