Shani Davis is an African American Olympic Champion speed skater, who became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual sport at the Olympic Winter Games (2006), winning the speedskating 1000 meter event. He also won a silver medal in the 1500 meter event. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, he duplicated the feat, becoming the first man to successfully defend the 1000 meter gold medal, and repeating as 1500 meter silver medalist. Davis has set a total of eight world records.
Davis was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Raised by his mother on the city’s south side, he started roller-skating at local rinks at age two. By age four Davis was darting around the roller rink so fast that skate guards would chase him just to ask him to slow down. Seeming to become bored with roller-skating, a coach suggested that Davis switch to ice skating.
Davis joined the Evanston Speedskating Club at age six and within two months started competing locally. By age 8 he was winning regional age-group competitions and began to hear about the Olympic ideal from his competitors and friends at the Northbrook Speedskating Club. Davis’s mother encouraged him to pursue his full potential, and in an effort to build his endurance woke him most mornings to run a mile on a track close to their home. As there were – and still are – no speed skating clubs in inner city Chicago, at age 10 Davis and his mother moved to the far north side of the city to be closer to the Evanston rink.
“My mom never thought of herself first. I credit most of my success to her. She continues to manage my career and is always there for me.”
Davis won five National Age Group Championships (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, and 2003) and also won a North American Championship in 1999. He became the first Black speed skater to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2002. He also made skating history at age 17 when he became the first American skater to earn spots on both the short track and long track Junior World Team, accomplishing that feat three years in a row in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Davis made the jump from junior competition to men’s speed skating in 2003. He became the North American long track champion in February 2003, qualifying him for the World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. Not yet adjusted to skating in the men’s division, Davis’s scores were much lower than usual, and Davis finished 16th overall.
January 2004 would find him a North American champion for the second consecutive year. Davis would finish in second place overall in the 2004 World Allround Long Track Championships in Hamar, Norway. In March, Davis won the 1,500 m at the Men’s World Single Distance Championships in Seoul, finishing the race in 1:48.64 in March 2004.
Davis set three world records in 2005 – two of them in Salt Lake City. On January 9, 2005, at the World Championship Qualifier, he broke the 1,500 m world record, recording a time of 1:43.33. He also set the world record for best overall time in the history of the Qualifiers – 149.359. A month later, Davis would win the World Champion all-round, scoring 150.778 points. In November, Davis would break another world record at the third World Cup match in the fall of 2005, skating the 1,000 m in 1:07.03. Davis did not participate at the Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City in December 2005 because his performances in the Fall World Cup events had already pre-qualified him for the Olympic Team in the 1,000 m, 1,500 m and 5,000 m events.
At 23, Davis won Gold and Silver at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, and also repeated his World All-Around Title in Calgary. In the 2006-2007 season, Davis won world titles in the 1000 meter and 1500 meter events. The following season (2007-2008) Davis repeated his 1000 meter World Title. The 2008-2009 season saw Davis win his first World Sprint Title in Moscow, Russia, and his third 1500 meter World Title in Vancouver.
In 2009-2010, at age 27, Davis broke two world records (1000m and 1500m), won Gold and Silver in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games — becoming the first man to repeat as Olympic 1000 m Champion — and he won his third consecutive Overall World Cup Titles in the 1000 and 1500 meters.
Since winning his second Olympic Gold medal, Davis has has raised the bar even higher for speedskating excellence. In 2010-2011 he won the Overall World Cup 1500 meter for a fourth time and won the World Championship 1000m for a third time. He also lead his teammates to the USA’s first Team Pursuit World Championship Gold Medal. In 2011-2012, Davis won his record fifth Overall World Cup 1000m crown and passed the 50-win milestone on the World Cup circuit, becoming the United States’ winningest male speedskater. In 2012-13 he passed 10,000 points for his World Cup career, one of only three men to do so.
In 2013-14 Davis won five World Cup races – 58 total, 2nd all-time – and skated to another 1000m/1500m ‘Davis Double’ at both U.S. Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials, winning both of his specialty races. Davis also claimed his seventh 1000m World Sprint Championships gold medal and garnered a record sixth Overall World Cup 1000m title. Earning the most World Cup points across all distances, Davis also won the Grand World Cup crown for the first time (officially) in his illustrious career.
In 2014-15 Davis was crowned 1000m World Championship for the fourth time, marking his 10th individual World title in his 10th year on the international long track circuit.
In his spare time, Davis works with Inner City Excellence, a skating-based youth development program.
*Photo credit: Shani Davis poses for an NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee promotional photo shoot on April 23, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif – Getty Image