RICHMOND, British Columbia - Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick were supposed to battle it out for gold. Mark Tuitert didn’t go along with the plan.
The Dutch skater pulled off an Olympic speedskating upset of the Americans in the 1,500 meters Saturday, relegating Davis to the silver while Hedrick failed to even make the podium Saturday.
Davis, the world-record holder trying to add to his gold medal in the 1,000, came around the final turn with his mouth open and both arms swinging, trying desperately to make up the gap on Tuitert. He finished more than a half-second behind, still good enough for his second medal of these games and fourth of his Olympic career.
“I don’t see it as me losing,” Davis said. “It is silver.”
Still miffed that he’s yet to win Olympic gold in his favorite event, Davis said he’ll be back at the 2014 Games to take another shot at the 1,500.
“I am sure it is going to keep me in the sport,” the 27-year-old skater said.
Not Hedrick. In his final individual race, the soon-to-retire Texan hoped to follow up a surprising bronze in the 1,000 with an even better showing in the 1,500, believing he had an advantage at the longer distance.
Not even close.
Hedrick collapsed on the final lap, falling farther and farther off the leading pace before crossing the line with only the sixth-best showing. He was more than a full second behind Tuitert’s winning time of 1 minute, 45.57 seconds.
Davis claimed the silver in 1:46.10, while Havard Bokko of Norway took bronze in 1:46.13.
“It was a monster race for me,” said Tuitert, who came in ranked only fifth on the World Cup circuit at this distance. “Shani has been winning everything, Chad was so good and then I produce this race.”
Hedrick was reliving cruel memories of the 1,500 four years ago in Turin, where Italy’s Enrico Fabris ruined another Davis-Hedrick showdown by winning gold, leaving the Americans to settle for silver and bronze.
“It’s the second time in a row that Shani and I have gotten this race stolen from us,” Hedrick said. “We go in as heavy favorites each time, and it is some special skater every time that comes in.”
Tuitert, who went in the third pair from the end, watched nervously from the infield as Hedrick skated next and Davis capped it off in the final group, both knowing the time they had to beat.
Hedrick got off to a surprisingly strong start, but that may have cost him his usual finishing kick. He knew he was done a few feet from the line, coasting across in 1:46.69.
“It couldn’t happen to a better guy. He beat me pretty good,” Hedrick said. “For him to go out there and fight like he did is incredible.”
Davis, who set the world record of 1:41.04 in December in the thin air of Salt Lake City, knew he wouldn’t be able to go nearly that fast at the sea-level conditions of the Richmond Olympic Oval. He was only 18-hundredths behind Tuitert with two laps to go, but wasn’t quite as strong at the end.
“I just couldn’t man up and do it,” Davis said. “I wasn’t strong enough for the victory.”
Tuitert held both hands to his head, as if he couldn’t believe his time had stood up to Davis, then grabbed the Dutch flag for a victory lap while his fellow countrymen in the band, Kleintje Pils, belted out their national anthem, “Wilhelmus.”
“I’ve had so many disappointments, so many setbacks,” Tuitert said. “It all came together in this race.”
Davis scratched his head, looking unsure about what happened. Still, he matched his performance from the 2006 Turin Games, winning gold in the 1,000 and silver in the 1,500 to become only the fourth male skater in U.S. history to earn two Olympic golds in long-track speedskating.
South Korea’s Mo Tae-bum made a run at his third medal of the games even though his coach didn’t think he had the stamina to hold out on the final lap. After winning gold in the 500 and silver in the 1,000, he led briefly before dropping back to fifth, 34-hundredths away from the podium.
Fabris didn’t come close to defending his gold medal. He was 10th, nearly 1½ seconds off the winning time.
As for the other Americans, Trevor Marsicano was 15th and Brian Hansen 18th.
After collecting himself, Davis seemed satisfied with his performance, smiling as he coasted around the track, waving to the crowd.
Hedrick could barely stand upright, gasping for breath and swatting at his legs as if he couldn’t believe they let him down.
Davis might have contended for another medal in team pursuit, but will sit out that event. So, his Olympics are over.
Hedrick will skate in the pursuit, giving him one last chance to join Eric Heiden as the only American men to win five medals on the big oval.
Heiden’s, of course, were all gold.
After that, retirement beckons for the 33-year-old former inline champion from Texas. He had plenty of success after he traded his wheels for blades.
“I leave the ring today. I have no shame,” Hedrick said. “I fell short today, but I left it all out there.”