Shani Davis

In 2006, American speedskater Shani Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Winter Olympic Games.


Born on August 13, 1982, in Chicago, Illinois, Shani Davis emerged from an inner city upbringing to star for the U.S. speedskating team. Despite unusual training methods, he became the first black athlete to win an individual Winter Olympic gold medal with his 1,000-meter victory at the 2006 Winter Games. Four years later, Davis became the first man to successfully defend his gold medal in the event.

Early Years

Shani Davis was born on August 13, 1982, in Chicago, Illinois. Raised by a single mother, Cherie, he learned how to roller skate at age 2. When Cherie began working for an attorney whose son competed in speedskating, she urged her son to give the sport a try. Davis joined the Evanston Speedskating Club at age 6, and within a few years was winning regional competitions. When he was 10, Cherie moved the family to be closer to the Evanston rink.

Early Competitions

Davis won the first of five National Age Group Championships in 1995 and made both the long and short track world junior teams at age 17, eventually becoming the first to achieve that feat in three consecutive years.

At the U.S. speedskating trials in January 2002, Davis beat the heavily favored Apolo Ohno and Rusty Smith in the 1,000-meter race to become the first black speedskater on the Olympic team. However, the victory was marred by controversy, as Ohno and Smith were accused of slowing down to let Davis, their friend, secure a spot on the team.

Davis soon erased any doubts about his ability to win on the elite level, excelling despite his unusual methods of training apart from the U.S. team and without a full-time coach. He won his first of three consecutive American championships in 2003, and in 2004 he claimed his first World Championship victory in the 1,500 meters. The following year, he won his first World Allround Championships and established a world record with his time in the 1,000 meters.

Olympic History

At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Davis won the 1,000-meter race to become the first black Olympian to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Games, and added a silver medal in the 1,500-meter event. However, he again found himself in hot water when teammate Chad Hedrick suggested that Davis had skipped the team pursuit event to focus on personal gains, an incident that soured the relationship between U.S. Speedskating and its rising superstar. Despite the contention, Davis won his second straight World Allround Championships and set a world record in the 1,500 meters after the Olympics ended.

Davis won his first World Sprint Championships and eclipsed his world record times in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters in 2009. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, he became the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in the 1,000-meter event, and earned another silver in the 1,500 meters. This time, there was no controversy to spoil his shining moment.

In 2011-12, Davis claimed his record fifth Overall World Cup 1,000-meter crown and his 50th career win on the World Cup circuit. Despite being slowed by a groin injury the following season, he became just the third speedskater to accumulate 10,000 career World Cup points. Still his sport's star attraction heading into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Davis aimed to make another run at history by becoming the first American man to win three straight Winter Olympic gold medals in one event.

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