Shani Davis Sets His Sights On a Gold Saturday!

The next year, Davis was admitted to the Olympic Education Center in Marquette. He would live with other athletes in dorms at Northern Michigan University and attend Marquette’s public high school. Davis arrived in 1999, the fall of his senior year. No one made a fuss over him when he arrived, but he wasn’t a target either. He began to trust Jeff Kleinschmidt, the director of the Olympic Education Center who was born and raised in Iron Mountain. And Davis liked the center’s academic coordinator, Tony Tollefson, who refers to himself as a Lake Wobegon (i.e., Minnesota) Tollefson turned Yooper.

That year Davis made both the long and short track Junior World Speedskating Teams. When his speedskating wound to a close, track season at his new high school had started, and Davis decided to give it a try. He’d never run track before, but he went at the sport in his typical whole-hearted style.Marquette high school track coach Matt Edgell recalls Davis’s long running stride—“One of the longest I’ve ever seen.” And he says Davis was a crackup, always looking for a chance to laugh. But mostly he remembers Davis’s work ethic. Davis had to stay after school to take an extra class to make up for the time he’d missed during the skating season, so he made it to track practice late every day. Without complaining, Edgell recalls, Davis started the team’s scheduled workout from scratch, finishing alone on an empty track 45 minutes after his teammates had gone home. “Everybody thought he was just good because he was big and had this stride. Nobody actually knew how dedicated he was,” Edgell says.

Kleinschmidt’s son, Justin, was also a senior that year, and the two boys became friends—and one-half of a 1600-meter relay team that set a U.P. record. As the season drew to a close, the Marquette High School track team—a team that hadn’t won a conference meet in 10 years—qualified for the Upper Peninsula State Meet (Upper Peninsula schools have their own state meet). Davis became a hometown hero.

The day of the state meet Davis was entered in the 4-by-800 relay, the 4-by-400 relay, the mile and the 800-meter run.  Davis gave everything he had in the first three events. He was exhausted, but Marquette had the state track title within its sights. If the team could win the 800, they had the meet. Edgell told Davis to kick it in 300 meters before the finish line—Davis usually saved his kick for the final 200 meters.

Davis did as the coach told him. And the title looked assured, until Davis collapsed—completely drained of steam—just shy of the finish line. In the frenzy a runner from another school slipped past. Marquette lost the U.P. state title to Escanaba by two points.

No one, not Coach Edgell, not Davis, not anyone on the team ever said a word about the devastating end to a glorious season.

When Davis turned in his uniform at the end of the meet, Edgell recalls Davis saying: “This was the most fun I’ve ever had and the best team I’ve ever been on.”

“And here I am, just this track coach from Marquette, Michigan, and this kid is a champion,” says Edgell. “I love that kid.”

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