Tight-lipped Davis doesn't cash in golden opportunity

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Speed skating gold medalist Shani Davis has every right to be grumpy.

He got the Hank Aaron treatment last week, though in the modern age the racial epithets come via anonymous e-mail rather than from the bleachers or the post office.

Davis has a right to think that there are lots of crummy people out there. He also has a right to be a little defensive after all the criticism he received in the media and from his teammates for skipping a team event to concentrate on the individual one that he dominated to become the first African-American man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

OK, now I'm going to stop apologizing for him and ask what he was thinking when he gave NBC reporter Melissa Stark the cold shoulder after his historic victory in the 1,000 meters on Saturday.

Maybe cold shoulder is a little harsh. How about if we call it the cool clavicle, because Davis delivered a terse response to each question and got away as quickly as he could. Stark asked him if he was angry about something, and he shook his head and claimed he was just at a loss for words, but it was pretty obvious there was more to it than that.

Which is fine. That's his business. He has no obligation to provide any more entertainment than he did on the ice, but it immediately crossed my mind what an opportunity he had just thrown away.

It's not like your average speed skater - even an Olympic gold medalist - is going to drown in post-Olympic promotional money, but this guy has a great story to go with his place in Winter Olympic history. How many other black kids on Chicago's South Side grew up wanting to be like Bonnie Blair instead of Mike?

But at the moment when his personality would be projected to millions of sports fans and thousands of advertising executives, he displayed no personality at all and, I'm just guessing, cost himself a few hundred thousand bucks.

That's too bad, especially at a time when people like Bryant Gumbel are questioning the relevance of the Winter Games to a pretty big demographic segment of the population.

Davis talked a lot about being a role model in the human interest buildup to his Olympic triumph. Then, when it came time to cash in on that golden moment, he turned the victory into self-defeat.

When I was a kid, my favorite Winter Olympic event was the bobsled, but not because of the breakneck speeds or the precision with which the drivers maneuver down the icy course. It was because I grew up a few miles from Disneyland and I actually could ride in a bobsled on the Matterhorn.

Even then, we suspected that Germans were sneaking into the park and greasing the rails, but we never had proof so no protest was ever filed.

After all the teeth-gnashing over Lindsey Jacobellis and her attempt to turn the women's snowboard cross into a scene from Hot Dog ... The Movie, I've got only one thing to say: Lighten up.

The so-called extreme sports are all about hot-dogging, and they don't exactly lend themselves to the staid Olympic team-above-all ideal. Jacobellis will have to live with the fact that her attempt to show off a little left her with Olympic silver instead of gold, but it really doesn't rank up there with the greatest sports gaffes of all time.

We are talking about snowboarding, aren't we?

I was scratching my head like everybody else about the soft ratings that NBC has been getting for the Winter Games during prime time, until I switched on the TV at 8 last night and saw that the featured sport was cross-country skiing.

"Nightmare for Norway!" exclaimed the commentator as the suspense built in the men's 40-kilometer cross-country relay.

"When does Desperate Housewives start?" I shouted back at the screen.

Mystery solved.

Curling update: Italy had never before fielded a curling team for the Winter Olympics, but the Italian men pulled a major upset when they scored a 7-6 victory over Canada on Saturday.

Forgive me for saying this, but the stunned Canadians may have to brush up on a few things before the medal round.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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