THE MAN OF THE GAMES, THE GOLDEN
I can still picture the cover of Sports Illustrated:
Eric Heiden, in a golden bodysuit, with the goal
accomplished: five gold medals in speed skating.
American speed skater Chad Hedrick was rumored to have his own lofty
goal in mind when he came to Torino: five gold medals. Those
of us “in the know” didn’t really talk about it – it was an absurdity, something
so rare that when Heiden did it, even U.S. hockey fans knew that something
besides the “miracle” happened in Lake Placid.
Hedrick’s goals were overshadowed after his teammate, Shani Davis,
decided to opt out of the team pursuit – which was making its debut in Torino
– to focus on his favorite event, the 1000m. For Davis, the choice
worked out well: he won gold in the 1000m, becoming the first African
American gold medallist in an individual Winter Games’ event. I went
to that race – it was truly thrilling to watch Davis skate, thrilling to
see history being made, thrilling to watch elite athleticism at its finest.
For Hedrick, it seemed a bit more complicated, as he talked about feeling
“betrayed” about Davis’s decision not to skate in the team event, implying
that the U.S. would’ve won a medal had Davis participated. It all turned
into a bit of an explosion, with questions regarding the role of the individual
within the team, whether or not the racial politics of the Winter Games played
a factor in the way the story unfolded, and what would become of these two
that were still, regardless, teammates.
It set it all up for quite the event in the men’s 1500m. Shani versus
Chad. Davis versus Hedrick. Black versus White. Chicago
versus Texas. And so on, and so on.
They both skated beautifully. But they both were beaten. Because
while the American media turned it into the “Shani and Chad Show,” it turned
out that there were a lot of other skaters entered into the event, including
24-year-old Enrico Fabris, whose amazing turn around the oval left
Shani with a silver, and Chad with a bronze. He stood on the dais,
gold medal around his neck, separating the two that had garnered so much
attention from us all, a happy champion who was giving yet another medal
to the home team, his third here in all. And while American newspapers
declared the war over between Davis and Hedrick, the Italian press celebrated
its golden boy, declaring with pride in banner headlines like FABRIS,
L’UOMO DEI GIOCHI and UN RAGAZZO D’ORO.
Thanks, Enrico. Thanks for demonstrating what
it really is all about.