Bode Miller & Shani Davis grow up

ASSOCIATED PRESS Shani Davis: no excuses
ASSOCIATED PRESS Shani Davis: no excuses
Posted: February 19, 2014

THE OTHER DAY, Alpine skier Bode Miller came to the defense of a zealous and somewhat insensitive interviewer who brought up his late brother and made him cry on national television. The day before, two-time defending gold medalist Shani Davis placed much of the blame of his disappointing races in Sochi on himself, cooling at least temporarily the searing criticism of both the controversial new racing suits worn by the U.S. team, and USA Speedskating - which delivered them late and minus adequate testing.

I was there in Turin when Miller, after failing to fulfill expectations that his boasts fueled, escaped postrace media questions by scrambling through the woods between the course and his condo. I was there in Turin when the antipathy between Davis and that very same federation turned a postrace press conference into something that more resembled a WWE postbout interview.

They were young. They thought they had all the answers. They believed, as so many young elite athletes do, that we didn't understand them, and never would.

It's the opposite, of course. It is they who don't get us, who have yet to marry, to parent, to suffer personal tragedy or the loss of loved ones, who haven't yet engaged in the Olympics of everyday life.

Bode Miller is a father to two children now, and a husband. None of those pieces is connected, at least directly. Over the last 12 months, he has experienced the loss of his younger brother and experienced a miscarriage with his new wife. Between the last Olympics and this one, his body has been bent and broken several times, his return to these games in jeopardy, his talents altered by this and age.

He is so much less of a skier than he was 8 years ago but so much more of a person. He is worth listening to now. He wasn't 8 years ago.

He is 36. Davis is 31. There are others now who answer only to themselves and/or their small band of supporters, people like figure skater Ashley Wagner, named to the U.S. Olympic team despite a butt-falling ugly performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Wagner keeps telling us how she has nothing to prove but to herself, sounding more than a little like those younger versions of Miller and Davis. She also got herself in a little warm water when a camera caught her one-word expletive description of her low score in the team event last week, and it conjured up Davis' me-against-the-world posture back in Turin.

Back then I also watched Davis, even amid great success, spoil several of his Olympic moments via the lingering hurt and antagonism of a feud initiated by an organization that, three Olympiads later, still can't seem to get out of its own way.

USA Speedskating has been justly criticized for delivering the skating suits without testing them. Its reaction to this criticism - shielding skaters from questions about them, attempting to limit those questions during organized press conferences, failing to produce officials for explanations - has made it less popular at these games than the Russian water.

This would have been an opportunity for the old Davis to extract some payback for the machinations that in Turin unjustly cast him as a villain after USA Speedskating screwed up the Olympic protocol for naming skaters to compete in the team event.

Davis could have blamed the suit. He could have cited the lack of testing and the late delivery. Instead he conceded there were "a lot of distractions," but added immediately that "I am not going to sit here and blame my performance on those things because I have been here before and done it many times. So you have to point the finger at me.

"It kills me inside to know that the attention I am getting now, these are the kind of things I've always wanted since 2002," Davis said. "I wanted to be a speedskater that Americans knew and followed and cheered for. I worked hard to get that. In 2006, it didn't quite go my way. In 2010, I didn't have anyone working for me to pull people into my corner.

"Now in 2014, I have the whole country behind me. I have people following me. I had everything going into it, but I come away with nothing to show them."

Au contraire. We already knew he could skate fast just as we already knew Bode could fight his way through anything an icy hill had to offer, as he once again did in becoming skiing's oldest Olympic medalist.

What was new, the impression that will last, is of two men connected to the world they once stood apart from, capable of fighting through the rest of what lies ahead - the real test of greatness.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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