TURIN, Italy -- The overhang above the main stage at Piazza Castello shielded Shani Davis from a blinding snowstorm as he accepted his gold medal last night. But it couldn't save him from the blizzard of controversy that continues to engulf the Chicago-born speed skater.
Hours after Davis had won the 1,000 meters Saturday night, the American viewing public was treated to a tape of a churlish Davis in his first interview with NBC.
Davis also turned down the standard studio interview with host Bob Costas as well as the usual medalist rounds, including the Today Show. But it was his exchange with NBC's Melissa Stark on Saturday night that had people wondering who the real Davis is and how much he cares about the image he portrays.
"You are the first African-American male to win [an individual] gold medal at the Winter Games," Stark said. "How proud are you of that?"
"I'm pretty happy about it," replied Davis, who looked away from Stark for most of the brief interview.
"That's it?" Stark said.
"Yeah," Davis said.
After a question about his mother Cherie was met with a similarly short response, Stark ended the interview by asking, "Are you angry, Shani?"
Davis replied: "No, I'm happy. I have a loss for words right now."
"All right," said Stark, clearly put off. "You sure do look happy."
In studio, Costas and studio analyst Dan Hicks remarked on Davis' mood.
"This is certainly not the kind of interview you're used to hearing from an Olympic gold medalist," Hicks said.
Sources said Davis was angry, specifically at Costas, for critical remarks about Davis' decision not to compete in the team pursuit Wednesday. With Davis, the U.S. was expected to be in medal contention. Without him, the team wasn't close. Davis said he had to get ready for Saturday's 1,000 meters.
The many faces of Davis have caused public and media opinion to swing from one extreme to the other. In between, there are those who just want to understand a talented young man who seems as happy one moment as he is angry the next.
Davis did stop to speak after receiving his medal last night and generally was cooperative to two reporters from Chicago, neither of whom he might have known had been critical of him.
So what of that disparity: curt with some, cordial with others? "I'm not angry at anybody," Davis said. "I'm up there and I have to go to the bathroom and you have to do a million and one things. It's frustrating sometimes. I understand you guys have to do your job, but I have to do things, too."
You laugh because it sounds funny. And you want to take his explanation at face value except that after the NBC exchange, he stepped in front of the Dutch television cameras for an interview described as warm and engaging by someone who watched it.
An NBC source said Davis had been offered another chance to do a studio interview but refused.
"I hadn't really heard about it," Davis said. "But like I said, I have priorities, and my job as an athlete is to make sure I take care of myself the best I can because I worked hard to get to where I am now."
Melissa Isaacson writes for the Chicago Tribune.