TURIN, Italy -- Chad and Shani now join Nancy and Tonya among the most contentious soulmates in Olympic history. Speed skating was just a warm-up for a better story line at the Olympic Oval last night when Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis continued their snippy crossfire that has become the most entertaining reality series of these Olympics.
Italy's Enrico Fabris won the 1,500-meter race, a fact that became inconsequential to the U.S. media beyond one factor: Davis (silver medal) and Hedrick (bronze) would have to be together for the post-race news conference. Fittingly, there was an empty chair designated for the reigning Olympic champion (who had already left), leaving Hedrick and Davis alone.
After spending 20 minutes chastising the media for trying to create false animosity between two U.S. teammates, Hedrick and Davis braced for a final question following the men's 1,500 meters.
"Since there's a perception that we've stoked this rivalry a little bit, maybe the media can be a common enemy and maybe you guys can kiss and hug and make up?" asked a reporter.
"There's nothing to kiss and hug about," Hedrick said. "We're competitors. We want to beat everybody out there. And if we don't feel that way we're never going to win. Michael Jordan doesn't go onto the court unless he is confident he's going to win. He's going to do everything he can do to win. And that's how it is. And that's how every top level athlete is and if he's not that way he's not a winner."
Seemingly irritated when Hedrick evoked Jordan's name, Davis fired his own salvo:
"Speaking of Michael Jordan, since I'm from Chicago and a big Michael Jordan fan, I've never seen him act in an unprofessional manner when it came to losing. ...
"I'll be honest in front of all you people since me and Chad, we're fighting for the same thing. He wants to win; I want to win. It would have been nice - and I'm just throwing it out there - it would have been nice if after the 1,000 meters he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand. Just like I hugged him after he won the 5,000 meters."
Davis then stalked off the dais. "I'm done," he said. "I've got nothing else to say."
The animosity started last week when Davis refused to compete in a team pursuit event and Hedrick didn't congratulate Davis after Davis won the men's 1,000 meters Saturday.
The media frenzy would escalate when Davis did not train with the U.S. team and was unavailable for days after competing in the 5,000 (an event that Hedrick won on Feb. 11).
Davis started yesterday's news conference insisting that they were not Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, dismissing that a feud reminiscent of figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the 1994 Olympics would help speed skating.
Hedrick said, "There's nothing going on between us," and tried making the argument that "he and I make each other stronger."
Then, Davis and Hedrick dropped their little masquerade.
"We had a great opportunity to win the team pursuit race and I felt betrayed in a way," Hedrick said after Davis left the room. "Not only did Shani not participate in it, he didn't even discuss it with me. And as the leader of the team I felt like we passed up a medal. It was nothing to do with me winning five gold medals."
Davis and Hedrick are giving the United States something else to talk about beyond egos that refuse to embrace.
Each has two medals - including one gold apiece - for a dominant men's speed skating team. Either Hedrick, the reigning world-record holder, or Davis (a former world-record holder) was expected to find the top of the podium yesterday.
Skating in the 17th group among 21 pairs, Fabris finished in 1:45.97. Skating three pairs later, Hedrick struggled on his final lap to finish in 1:46.22.
Davis, competing in the final group, said he was thrown off by a false start that made him a bit more conservative at the second start. Davis finished in 1:46.13.
Fabris and Davis skated a victory lap together, while Hedrick, visibly upset, sat down and removed his skates. Davis then tousled Fabris' hair on the podium, while Hedrick continued to look like a man who didn't accomplish much of anything.
"I think it's great that they're trying to make it like Shani and I are battling each other," Hedrick said. "That's what this sport needs."
"This is not a heavyweight boxing fight," Davis said. "I totally disagree."
Either way, it's entertaining.
George Diaz writes for the Orlando Sentinel.