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Shani's secret weapon for Olympics? Hi-Chew

February 6, 2010 |  5:06 pm
Shani Davis gave a Japanese TV crew more than it could have asked for Saturday morning.

And then, with a big grin, the Olympic champion speedskater asked for something in return.

After finishing his first practice at the Richmond Olympic Oval, where he will be favored to add at least one more gold medal to his resume, Davis greeted the crew from TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) by pulling out a Japanese good luck charm his girlfriend had given him.

"It's a winning charm," Davis said. "My girlfriend wants me to win. Pretty cool, huh."

At the end of the brief interview, Davis said, "I've got one more" and pulled out another Japanese item, Hi-, a soft and chewy fruit candy that releases flavor until it dissolves in the mouth.

"I've got some Hi-Chew here," Davis said. "It's my favorite Japanese candy. I love Hi-Chew. Please, send me some Hi-Chew."Chew

HighChew2  Davis, who arrived Friday, was pleased with the condition of the Olympic Oval, where he had won gold (1,500 meters) and bronze (1000) at the World Single Distance Championships last March.

The sea-level facility is considerably slower than the Salt Lake City OIympic Oval, where Davis set world records at those distances last year.

"It's a lot better than what I remember," he said. "It's exciting."

Davis, 27, of Chicago, won Olympic gold (1000) and silver (1500) four years ago in Turin, Italy, where the rink also was low altitude (672 feet above sea level).

Last year, he described the difference between Salt Lake, at 4500 feet above sea level, and Richmond as making a 1500 meters in Utah seem like a 1600 here. Times in that race likely will be four or five seconds slower than at Salt Lake.

"What sets Shani apart is his ability to accelerate through the turns at high speed," speedskating legend Eric Heiden said Saturday. "On a slower track, some of the skills that make him so good probably are not as big an advantage."

Heiden, now the U.S. speedskating team doctor, still thinks the "1000 is Shani's to lose. He is so much better than anyone in the 1000.

"In the 1500, he is a strong favorite, but so are some others, including Chad (Hedrick, his teammate and bronze medalist in the 1500 four years ago.)"

Shani  Davis will also compete in the 5000 meters, where he has an outside shot at a medal, and the 500, where his medal chances are minimal.

He figures it is critical not to think of the Olympics as anything unusual.

"I can't get too caught up in treating it as an Olympic race," Davis said. "It has to be just like every other race you were successful in.

"A lot of people caught up in trying to overhype the Olympics, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves. I'm just approaching it like any other race."

Davis' first Olympic race is the 5,000 next Saturday.  He finished 7th at the distance in Turin, 8.4 seconds behind the victorious Hedrick.

``It will be a good race for Shani to get comfortable with the ice at race speed,'' Heiden said.  ``It's hard to simulate that any other way.  It allows him to get accustomed to the venue with regard to crowd and routine.

``Shani is a competitor.  He is going to try to win.'' 

He already had won big points with the Japanese TV crew, which gave him a pin that he proudly displayed for the camera.

As he walked away, Davis made one more light-hearted plea:  ``I want many, many Hi-Chews.  Thank you.''

Photos: Hi-Chew candy (Morinaga Company); Shani Davis after breaking the 1500-meter world record last year.  (Associated Press / Colin E. Braley)