We sat down with active legend of speed skating, Shani Davis (USA) for an in depth interview touching upon the upcoming Winter Olympics, his current form and coaching other skaters among other topics.
Q= Interviewer Irene Postma for ISU, S: Shani Davis
Q What is different where you are now compared to a year ago.
S: I am in way better shape now than I was last season, trained a lot harder, trying to go back to the basics of what made me really special and unique in the beginning of my career, when I had more fitness for all around skating, so I am trying my best to incorporate my all around ideas from way back when into the ideas that I have now about my skating and see it all the way through to 2018 and it’s for better or for worse, we have to wait and see.
Q: Do I hear that you want to do all around?
S: I like training for all around, but to go for it, it’s kind of difficult, because it takes too much out of my middle distance. And the middle distances are the most competitive so I cannot afford to play around with going too far into the endurance.
It is a very fine line that I have to master, so no allrounds. But I like training for them, I do not want to compete in them.
Q: I hear you are in Japan?
S: Yes, I coach now some of the Sankyo skaters. It is a great start for me for after my skating career. I have split the door a bit with coaching, instead of starting from ground zero I have the opportunity to work with it now, but at the same time I have an opportunity to compete and coach. So balancing the two was very challenging but I enjoy it very much.
Q: You coach from the ice?
S: I train with them, I make their program, yea, I do everything, but it is only when we are together. When we’re separate we have our communication, but when I’m here I am responsible for them.
Q: And you coach together with someone else or alone?
S: The head coach on paper is Joji, but I am the assistant coach. We kind of share responsibilities, but I get more of it because I have more experience.
Q: Joji Kato? He is a coach?
S: Kind of. He is more skating, not coaching, I am more coaching. I guess that is fair to say.
Q: And you are your own coach as well?
S: Yea, for the most part I am. I do a lot of things on my own, but in the summertime I have a lot of structural from a coach for short track, but when I am on long track I make my own.
Q: All the experience of years come together?
S: Hey, it is pretty good practice!
Q: Do you consider this is really the end of your career skating-wise? Is it like the smooth end slash beginning?
S: No… it would have been smoother if things went the way they should have went in Sochi but since they didn’t, you have to kind of rebound and make the best out of the situation that you are facing and I feel like I did that. I weathered the storm, I am one of the last survivors of my generation of skating. And I am still relevant, I’m 13, 14 years of skating at the highest level. And I take great pride and honour in it that I was able to just exist. And of course things could have been better, but they weren’t. And hopefully now from my experiences from what I have learned for myself and the things I have been through, I think I can help other skaters not have to go through such highs and lows of skating. More smooth transitions.
Q: But you wouldn’t want to have missed the highs…
S: Oh No. Or the downs. I think it completes me as a person. You have to deal with winning and to deal with losing. It’s a part of sport. I have an appreciation for all aspects of the game: winning, losing, highs and lows, good times and bad times, it is life. Everything doesn’t always go your way and I am really happy that I did as well as I did for as long as I have. I am very proud of it.
Q: What is the highest point in your career?
S: That is a tough one because I have done so much. I would say one of the highest points of my career was winning the World Single Distances here (Heerenveen) in 2015. Against my Olympic rival Stefan Groothuis. It was against all odds, and it was me and him; the Olympic Champion of 2014 versus the Olympic Champion of 2006 and 2010. A packed full house. It was the last time that Thialf was the Thialf. And just let it all out and all was in my favour. I beat a lot of people that probably thought I would never beat them again but I showed them you should never underestimate a champion.
Q:It was all the better because you had been through a low…
S: It was a rough season, it was hard to find motivation to want to skate and train after the upset at the Olympics. But I overcame it, the best I could and I fought valiantly and it is something I am very proud of. I could have easily thought ‘forget skating’; I could do other things. I could have easily stayed in depression but I fought back and I didn’t allow it to defeat me.
Q: How does your body cope with all the skating over the years?
S: I’m very blessed in terms of health. I haven’t had any significant major injuries in my career. I have some bad knees and things like that, but it is not like I have chronic things. Things I can work through: I have dealt with them before and yeah, I am lucky. I put in a lot of training hours over my career but I am still able to do the things I need to do and there is nothing out there that I can’t do. I’m very lucky about that.
As you get older of course you need more recovery, you have to be smarter in your choices of what you choose and decide to do. I’m learning that as I go along with things. It can be hard, but I do the best I can with it.
Q: As you’re from the US, what place does your sport have, how do people perceive you?
S: In America you are all aware that the sport of speed skating doesn’t have a very prolific position in life. It is very minor. It is very conditional, because once every four years speed skaters have relevance in America.
They remember you if you win, but if you don’t win no-one really cares. It is a harsh reality, but I have to remind myself why I love skating as much as I love it and if I think about the reasons why I started skating, which is simply to go fast, or to be as fast as I can be or be the fastest in the world, I don’t worry about people knowing about it or accepting what I have done or accomplished. That is not important to me. What is important is that I’ve made history and my legacy will be forever. And I will always be remembered by people that love and appreciate skating as one of the greatest. And I’m okay with that.
Q: Your next goal is a good Olympics in Korea?
S: I just want to go there and I want to be prepared. I don’t want to have any doubts, any unknown variables, I just want to make sure that I’ve done everything in my power to be ready. And I want to go there with a good attitude. First I have to qualify of course, and I want to put myself there before it begins, because you never known, you just never know. But I want to go there and I want to try again. I still believe in my heart that I can do it. I think I will be happy if I knew that I gave it my best. And then I could just say ‘Ok, Shani, you tried your best and...’
Q: Even if it is fifth?
S: Even if it is fifth. Sure. Because I have been the guy that has won so many races, I’ve been the guy that was fifth, I’ve been the guy that has been tenth. I’ve been last, I don’t know, I may have fallen down or something, but I’ve been all over the map. As long as I knew that I’ve been there and I’ve done my best, I’ll be happy with fourth place. If I went out there and I kind of did a half job, sure I’d be upset. But honestly, I wouldn’t do it if I felt I couldn’t do it. Then I would try something else. But you know, that is also tentative on what is going on in this past season. I’m happy that I’ve been on the podium this season and I think that if I do things right, I can be on the podium again, and I keep on trying. But it’s a step in the right direction. And until those steps stop, then I will continue. Once they’re done, they are done, and you have to be appreciative of what you are able to do when you are able to do it. That is how I see it.
Q: You seem to be a lot more at peace with yourself.
S: Yes, it took a long time for me to understand how this works in terms of being up and being down, figuring things out. But it starts with being honest with yourself, and if something is really bad, you have to be aware of it. You can’t say ‘it is good’ when it’s bad. A lot of people around me would tell me that certain things were good, but they weren’t. I don’t even think that they know any better. It was just like ‘Shani, it looks good, you’re coming back’, and I would think ‘Maybe, but I don’t feel it.’ You know, it looks good but it doesn’t feel good. Now it’s starting to feel good. You just got to learn how to choose to listen to the right advice; you have to follow and trust yourself and follow and believe what is in your heart. I think you can do anything.
It took me a long time to get used to this because I was used to winning everything and then all of a sudden I wasn’t there anymore. And it is not like I didn’t train hard or anything. It was just that my body had caught up with me. I can’t train the same way I trained at 22 or 26, but I didn’t know that. Now I’m learning at 34 that you can be just as strong, just as fast, but you have to be smarter about what you choose and decide to do. I used to do 5000, 500, 1000, 1500, I used to do everything. All-arounds, sprints. And it is great, because it builds a huge base, but you cannot keep on building your base out on the side because you have to start building it coming up, too. So you live and you learn, and I learned a lot, so I’m happy to give that knowledge to my skaters now.
Q: Who are your skaters?
S: I have three, four skaters now: I have Tsubasa Hasegawa, I have Kento Nakamura, I have Saori Toi and then I have Ryohei Haga and then possibly Joji Kato.
Tsubasa is also skating in the A-group. He is a young guy and has a lot of potential and I’m just happy to help. Yes, I think he can be really special some day. But he needs the right people to help and I’m happy to be able to give him some attention. It is not always about me, the skater has to have the gift. I think that he has the gift. It is very fun working with him, working with all of them. I’m learning so much too, teaching them. I’m learning from all the skaters I watch. I pay more attention now that I’m coaching then I did when I was just skating, because then the focus was on me. But now I watch everyone skating. I’m learning technique and I’m learning everything about everybody and it is fun to see.
Q: So you are still in the process of becoming a wise man?
S: Yes, you never stop learning until you die. That is what they say, so… yeah, it is fun to watch all those guys, I really enjoy it. And I also like that different countries are starting to do well, too. German men are crazy strong right now.
The Japanese program is doing great. And the Dutch are the Dutch as always, and there are some Canadians starting to do well, there is so many people starting, Australian and Kazakhstan, you never know, it’s anybody’s game now, it’s cool.
Q: Ok, thank you very much for this inspiring interview!
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