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Hedrick, Davis bring it to track

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TURIN, Italy -- If there is bad blood between American speed skaters Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis, neither is saying much about it.

The reserved Davis has been complimentary toward his teammate, and Hedrick, the abrupt Texan, has said, "I don't have any problem with Shani."

Still, their much-anticipated showdown in the 1,000 meters tonight has all the earmarks of a grudge match. The race will feature a bevy of talented skaters - including Jan Bos of the Netherlands and Americans Joey Cheek and Casey FitzRandolph - any of whom could take gold.

But none of them has a story like that of Hedrick and Davis.

Hedrick came into the Olympics talking about winning five speed skating gold medals, a feat accomplished only once before, by American Eric Heiden in 1980.

First came the 5,000 meters. Hedrick won. Then came the team pursuit - and that's where Davis entered - or rather, didn't enter - the picture.

Hedrick wasn't exactly thrilled about skating in the odd event, which has three teammates on the ice simultaneously, sprinting around the oval single-file, racing as a synchronized unit. He participated, he said, for the good of the team.

He also said that with Davis on the squad, the U.S. had a good shot of winning.

Except Davis, after a seventh-place finish in the 5,000, skipped the event to rest up for the 1,000. His replacement, 35-year-old KC Boutiette, fell badly off the pace.

No victory for the U.S. No five golds for Hedrick.

In the days since, Davis has not spoken to the media. He is somewhat aloof - the opposite of Hedrick.

Hedrick has shown a hint of irritation at answering so many questions about his teammate, and has also tried to downplay any sense of disappointment.

At some point, Heiden pulled him aside and told him not to worry about winning every race. Make a point of going out there and having fun, the former champion said, according to Hedrick.

For the first gold medal in the 5,000, "I was a little tense to go out there and get it," Hedrick said. "But now I'm relaxed and confident."

Which brings us to tonight's race.

This could be Hedrick's weakest event. Davis, on the other hand, holds the world record in the 1,000. Cheek, who won the 500 meters, is also a fast starter.

As for all the hype, Davis said earlier, "I don't care to be an athlete celebrity because there are too many pressures. I don't want all that."

The Chicago native had kind words for Hedrick, mentioning him in the same sentence as basketball legend Michael Jordan.

"Jordan is a hero for Chicago," he said. "I have big shoes to fill. I have to make my own path. I have to make my own shoes. Chad is a five-time champion of the world and he has bigger shoes than me, as well."

David Wharton writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Speed skating Chs. 11, 4, tonight, 8-11:30

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