The separation with U.S. Speedskating has not helped Davis’s feelings toward the organization. Although Davis currently sits on the U.S. Speedskating board as an athlete representative, he, along with several other skaters, is again embroiled in a controversy with the organization. This time over sponsorship contracts.
Over a heaping plate of LaChapelle’s stir fry, Davis talks about being an Olympian and a college student. His day starts at 5:30 a.m. with ice time and then a workout. After classes, there is more training and workouts. Despite that schedule, Davis, a college junior now, is doing well in school and says he wants to be a teacher someday. Maybe a professor.
The BJ Stupak Scholarship, a federal program that sends Olympic hopefuls to college, has largely funded Davis’s education. The program is named for the son of Bart Stupak, the U.P. congressman who worked for more than 10 years to launch it. Tragically, in 2000, just as the congressman’s efforts came to fruition, BJ killed himself; a suicide the family believes was linked to emotional side effects from the acne drug Accutane.
Rocked back in one of LaChapelle’s metal chairs so that its front legs are just off the ground, Davis tells how it dawned on him recently, on an errand through the Superior Dome, just who BJ was. “He passed away. I was looking at pictures on the wall at the dome there. He was born in ’82 like me. That’s really sad,” he says, letting the legs of his chair down and leaning forward in his seat. Bart Stupak “has given other kids that opportunity that he probably would have given his son to be able to do schooling and compete. I think that’s really great of him. It shows that he has a big heart.”
Davis has a big heart, too. He works with a group of young inner city speedskaters in Washington, D.C.. In return, the kids write poetry about him and hang it on the rink walls.
When he can, Davis tries to return the support Kleinschmidt and Tollefson have given him over the years. The skater calls them his extended family. This past November Davis called Kleinschmidt to tell him when he’d be in Marquette for the trials. Kleinschmidt mentioned that he’d be speaking about the Olympic Education Center to the Marquette Rotary Club at noon on Monday, November 28. If Davis happened to be in town by then, he’d love to bring him along.
On November 20, Davis broke the world 1000-meter record in Salt Lake City. Among other things the accomplishment made him USA Today’s athlete of the week, and garnered him a two-page color spread in Sports Illustrated. The following Sunday, Davis secured his place on the Olympic long track team with a win at a World Cup race in Milwaukee. That night, he and his mom rented a car and drove to Marquette. They pulled in at 2 a.m.—so Davis could make his noon appointment to talk to the Rotarians with Kleinschmidt.
“He told them that when he first came to Marquette he didn’t really care about school, but that this summer he got A’s in all his classes,” Kleinschmidt says. “And that his only problem at Northern is that every time he takes a new class, he wants to change his major.”
It was a vintage Shani Davis moment, and on the final night of the Olympic trials Marquette is treated to another one. It had been a week of errors for Davis. On Tuesday he nicked something on the ice, which damaged his blade and pushed him down to eighth place. On Friday, a third-place finish in the 500 meter put him back in the running. On this final night, he can make the five-man Olympic team if he comes in second in the 1000 meter semis. Fighting from the middle of a tight pack he catches a blade on a rubber marker, stumbles, then crashes face first. He never catches up. At sixth place overall, he has not made the short track team. He will compete at the Olympics in long track only.
Davis steps off the ice and hugs Anthony Lobello, the competitor who’d beat him out for the final spot on the team. Later, like the hometown hero he is, Davis skates a victory lap, waving to the stands filled with Upper Peninsula fans who cheer until their throats are dry.
Davis makes no excuses. He just didn’t make it—and he’s already looking ahead to Torino and the long track. Back in Marquette they’ll be watching.
This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Catch up with Shani on shanidavis.org. Read more about why Shani loves Marquette. And track Shani in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.