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Finally past injury, Davis blazes to 1,500-meter gold

Hansen settles into second, takes silver; Richardson wins bronze in 500
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In winning the gold, American Shani Davis clocked the fastest 1,500-meter time in the world (1:41.98) since he set the world record four years ago. -Getty Images

Most athletes don't see an injury as a gift.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis was no exception. In fact, the 31-year-old Chicago native said the painful, nagging injury didn't just keep him from accomplishing his goals on the ice last season -- it also beat him down mentally.

That is until he realized that some gifts come in unwanted and unappealing packages.

"The groin thing really hurt me, but now I take it as a blessing in disguise," Davis said after winning gold in the 1,500 meters at the World Cup on Friday. "Competing against everyone skating their best…having to go out there and skate against those guys at 75-80 percent trying to recuperate myself, to recover…It kept me humble.

"I was so frustrated that I couldn't go out and (skate) my hardest, do my best. And it's so rewarding now that I'm heading in the right direction, but it's only thanks to that groin injury."

Davis skated his fastest 1,500-meter time in four years with a 1:41.98, while teammate Brian Hansen earned the highest finish of his career in the distance with a 1:42.16. The bronze medalist was Koen Verweij, who set a national record for the Netherlands with his personal best of 1:42.28.

The storm that rolled into the Salt Lake valley Friday morning actually created the perfect conditions for some scorching speed skating at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah. From the minute the clock started running, records started falling.

The most eventful race was the ladies 500 meters, where six new national records were set and defending Olympic gold medalist Sang-Hwa Lee earned her third gold medal of the season while setting a new world record with a time of 36.74 seconds.

She declined to talk with reporters until after she races the 1,000 meters Sunday, but her coach, Den Dutson, said it wasn't his skater's goal to make history this weekend.

"She actually mentioned that she wasn't really looking to break a world record," he said of the skater that he's worked with since she was a teen. "She was in Calgary, and she was just doing her best and got a world record. She came to Utah without big expectations. She just did her best and got another world record. So she's pleased."

China's Beixing Wang was second with a new national record and personal best of 36.85, followed by reigning World Sprint champion Heather Richardson, who established a new national record of 36.97 seconds.

Richardson said she woke up and immediately began checking the scores of the earlier races for B Division athletes. What she saw both excited and shocked her.

"Seeing B group go first, I knew that the ice was fast," she said of her second podium of the season. "This morning I even joked around, 'I'm going 36 today!' I didn't want to jinx anything, but I'm really happy I was able to pull that one off."

She said the start and lap times were the fastest of her career.

"When I crossed the line and saw 36.9, I was like, 'Wahoo!' It was a really fast start for me. I think that might have been my first 10.4 (seconds), so getting off the line that good was awesome."

Richardson said watching Lee continually skate the 500 in 36 seconds has made her realize what she has to do to compete.

"It was in the back of my mind that I do have to get there to be competitive in the 500," she said. "It felt good to have [the track record] for just that little bit [of time], but I knew there were still fast skaters to go."

Canada's Junio Gilmore and Joji Kato of Japan tied for first in the men's 500 with a time of 34.25 (a personal best for Gilmore). Michel Mulder, representing the Netherlands, set a national record in the distance with 34.26.

American skaters Mitchell Whitmore and Tucker Fredricks finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with Whitmore's time of 34.29 setting a new men's U.S. record. Fredricks earned a personal best of 34.30 but said he was disappointed with his race because of some technical mistakes that cost him time.

Whitmore didn't even know he'd set a national record but said he reached the goal he set at the beginning of the season by finishing in the top 10 for the second straight week.

"I didn't feel too great this morning," he said. "But I think I adjusted well. …As long as I keep improving, keep the technique going well."

That's exactly the philosophy that Davis is embracing as he enjoys his second straight week on the podium in his favorite race -- the 1,500. He said the real blessing in dealing with a groin injury last season is that it changed the way he trained during the off-season.

"Four years ago, I was in the best shape of my life, and I got kind of tried around Olympic time," he said. "So this summer and this season, I've been trying hard to kind of hold back the horses a bit, be a little more conservative and just going out there and doing what I need to do instead of going out and beyond."

He said the injury taught him to trust his lifetime of hard work.

"It taught me certain things about my body," he said. "And it taught me I have to be prepared in all areas. I can't leave any stones unturned in my preparation for skating. I took more seriously my recovery, my warm-ups, my cool-downs, stretching, core work, my glute work, and I just try to be healthy."

Davis said without the groin injury, it would have been business as usual.

"If that didn't happen, I think I would have done the same thing I've always done," he said, "Just train, train, train, train, train. I wouldn't have cared about recovery, taking care of my body, and maybe it would have happened this year."

Davis said the cause of his injury was easy to determine.

"It was just too much volume," he said of his training. "When you're 30 years old -- and I was 30 years old last season -- you can't train like you're 22. I've already done all the work. I've just got to be smart. …I just have to have the faith in myself that I can just go out there and do it. I can't second guess myself."

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