When Chicago native Shani Davis put on his first pair of roller skates at two years old, all he wanted to do was go fast. Now, as an Olympian speedskater, there's still nothing more thrilling for Davis than speed—except maybe winning, and he's done plenty of that.
The 31-year-old has nabbed four Olympic medals, broken eight world records, and he became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal at a Winter event in Turin in 2006. Davis will compete in this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia at the top of his game. If he wins the Gold medal during the Winter games, he will be the first American male speedskater to win Gold for three consecutive games. But, for Davis, it's not the records, but the dedication to his craft that keeps him motivated. Because of this commitment, He has made both history and fans, and his performance in Sochi this week is expected to be no different. We caught up with Davis before the games to see how he prepares for worldwide competition, and what he has in store next.
EBONY: When did you first begin skating and when did you realize it was something you'd like to pursue professionally?
Shani Davis: I started skating at age 2 on roller skates on the South Side of Chicago, where I grew up. By age 4, roller-skating was something I really enjoyed. Everyone around me wanted to do the 'roll bounce' thing, but I was pretty much only interested in going fast. As soon as I was introduced to ice speedskating I was instantly hooked. I never thought about pursuing skating professionally, I just enjoyed doing it. My career evolved to the point where I started earning a decent living, mainly from winning World Cup races, which started happening in my early 20s. Not much has changed!
EBONY: How do you prepare mentally and physically for a race?
SD: The real preparation for races is done in the off-season. I put in the hard work during the summer and fall, and I'm always working on technique so that when the actual races come around I'm ready to go. Mentally, my key is just focusing on the little things I need to do in a race, whether that's tempo, turn entry, start speed, things like that. I'm not thinking about that much before or during a race. I just trust in my ability and all the hard work I put in and let the race come to me.
EBONY: What kind of rush does speedskating give you?
SD: Then and now, going fast gives me a thrill. I'm always trying to push the envelope when I skate, but always under control. I compete on the long track (400 meter oval), but I train short track (111 meter oval in a hockey rink) in the off-season, and the thrill of doing sharp turns on a tight track is still the coolest feeling. And of course there is always a rush from winning races, from meeting the challenge of competitors and prevailing. When I stop winning races I'm sure the rush will fade and I'll know it's time to move on to other things.
EBONY: You have a chance to make history by becoming the first U.S. male to win long-track gold medals in three Olympics. Do you feel any pressure to succeed?
SD: I've never focused on making history. I just focus on my technique and executing my race plans, which is probably why I've been able to accomplish as much as I have. There's more excitement surrounding the Olympic races, but really I'll approach the Olympics like I do all of my races. Whatever nerves I have will go away as soon as the gun goes off. I felt a lot of pressure, mostly from myself, leading up the 2010 Olympics, but honestly this time I don't feel as much pressure, at least not yet. Or maybe I'm more confident handling pressure, which still comes mostly from me.
EBONY: What do you like to do for fun when you are off the ice?
SD: Nothing beats just hanging out with friends, relaxing in Chicago.
EBONY: What's next for you after the Winter Olympic games?
SD: Well, I'm committed to finishing out the racing season, including the World Cup Final in The Netherlands in March. I'm still trying to win as many races as I can and the Overall World Cup title. After that, hopefully I'll get to experience another Victory Tour like I did after 2010! So many doors open to Olympic Champions and I got a good taste for that after 2010. But regardless of my results in Sochi, I'll take a good long time to decompress after this season. My body and mind will need a long rest. After that I'll see how high my desire is to train for next season. I haven't ruled out competing in 2018, but I'll take it year by year.