Davis, Richardson draw on inspiration for final Olympic qualifying race in long-track skating

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31 2013 9:05 p.m. MST

Heather Richardson competes in the women's 1,500 meters during the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Kearns, Utah. Richardson won the event. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rick Bowmer, AP

KEARNS — Even as Shani Davis prepared to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in his favorite distance, he battled complacency.

The emotional roller coaster that is Olympic trials doesn’t just take a toll on an athlete’s body. It can be tough on their mental state as well.

“It’s just hard,” said Davis, who won the 1,500-meter trial race with a time of 1:43.20, ensuring he will race at least three distances in the Olympics in February. “Trials are very emotional. You see people making Olympic teams, you see close friends that you trained with all your life not make an Olympic team. It’s hard.”

Because Davis understands the sacrifice it takes to even compete for a spot on an Olympic team, he can empathize with the devastation when one comes up short.

“I want to see people achieve their dreams and goals,” he said. “(People who) put a lot of time into the sport, dedicated their lives to the sport. It’s unfortunate that we can’t all make the Olympic team. You see both sides of it, pure happiness, and people really sad and emotional. It takes a lot out of you.”

Davis said that by the time he stepped on the ice, he was ready to give the race everything he had.

“Today I needed to qualify for the 1,500,” he said. “I wasn’t very motivated today. By the time I got to the line, I found great motivation. I approached it like it was an Olympic race, and I didn’t give into the voices in my head saying, ‘Slow down,’ ‘Quit,’ or ‘It’s good enough.’ I just pushed myself and I’m very happy with the result.”

Davis said his motivation comes from his own desire and the pressure coming from all the skaters who’d love to knock him off the podium. “My competitors,” he said of his main motivator. “They don’t care if I’m not motivated or if I’m tired or if I don’t really feel like racing today.”

Davis’ role has changed over the years from the promising newcomer to the decorated veteran, and he’s not only OK with that, he’s relishing it.

“I really accept the role I have now,” he said grinning. “I embrace it, and I’m really happy and proud that I’m in the position I am. A few years ago I wasn’t. … I’m so happy things are positive.” He jokes that part of his drive comes from wanting the attention, free champagne and bouquets of flowers.

“I like not spraying it on them and keeping it for myself,” he laughed. “I tease them a bit, just in good fun. Kind of like a big brother thing. … I have a collection of unopened bottles at my house.”

Brian Hansen was the only skater close to Davis’ time with a 1:43.70 second-place finish. Joey Mantia (1:44.41) and Jonathan Kuck (1:45.29) finished third and fourth and also make the Olympic team.

On the women’s side, Heather Richardson continued to prove why she’s a favorite with a win in the 1,500 meters. Her 1:54.19 edged her good friend and roommate Brittany Bowe’s time of 1:54.96, while Jilleanne Rookard finished third with 1:57.70. The U.S. only qualified three spots in the women’s 1,500 meter, so those three will represent America at that distance.

Bowe and Richardson have been 1 and 2 in every race at the trials, and often in World Cup competition.

“It’s really fun,” Bowe said. “It’s really special.”

As for sweeping this competition, Richardson was, as she always is, modest.

“I feel like each race is getting stronger,” she said. “I’m excited going into Sochi.”

She dedicated her win to the cancer patients that her mom works with in High Point, N.C.

“My mom is the receptionist at Cornerstone Health Care, and all of the patients come in asking about me, so it’s really special to me,” the High Point native said. “I appreciate all of their support. This is for them.”

Head U.S. long track coach Ryan Shimabukuro said he's "happy and proud" of the team that's so far been selected. There is one more day of competition in the men's 10,000 and women's 5,000 meters.

"This is definitely one of our strongest teams," he said.

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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