Shani Davis' stealthy final exit

On his final Olympic run in Pyeongchang, 35-year-old speedskater Shani Davis acknowledged the crowd, who supported him throughout the 1,000-meter race. In the event, where he holds the world record, he placed seventh. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- It was Matt Whewell, the press liaison for U.S. speedskating, who had to deliver the news to us as we waited for Shani Davis. The four-time Olympian had just finished seventh in the 1,000 meters at what is likely his last Olympic appearance. "Shani already went through," Whewell said. "He's not coming back."

I'm not sure, now, what it is we expected that Friday night: that Davis was going to walk out to us teary-eyed and reflective, waxing nostalgic about his decorated Olympic career and praising the likes of African-American teammates Maame Biney and Erin Jackson, evidence of just how large a legacy the 35-year-old leaves to U.S. speedskating? Isn't that self-evident? Did we expect him to come clean? When had he lied? Apologize? For what? Get sentimental? Since when? Tell us it was the end? Has he even admitted that to himself yet?

No. Davis was always going to do this his way, and he certainly wasn't going to genuflect to the media who had always wanted him to seem more grateful and accommodating than he was -- and never forgave him for it.

As I looked at the faces around me, their chagrin ripening to amusement, and noticed my own shock that Shani had, yet again, skipped right past us, I had to suppress a howl of laughter.

The first time I encountered Davis in Pyeongchang was after he came in 19th in the men's 1,500-meter final. In the mixed zone for the press, he stepped up to a handful of recorders with the flag-bearing Erin Hamlin tweet controversy still in full bloom, carrying a warning that he was only going to answer "skating-specific questions." Of course, that embargo wasn't going to last for long, and after two or three questions, someone finally asked about Hamlin.

Davis sighed: "I said before this interview that I wasn't go to answer anything that doesn't have to do with skating."

Another journalist decided to try their luck: "Can you at least tell us why you won't talk about it?"

Davis looked out the side of his eyes at Whewell. "Can I go?" he asked.

"Yeah, you can go," Whewell answered, turning back to us as Shani walked away with a look that said, "I did warn you."

A few reporters walked away angry that night. Tonight we got tactical.

Someone asked to speak to Davis' coach. Whewell dutifully went to ask and quickly returned with an answer: No. Davis didn't want his sometimes coach Tom Cushman to speak on his behalf. We asked for another coach, and Matt Kooreman emerged. He oversees U.S. long track and works with Joey Mantia, who finished the 1,000-meter race in fourth, .61 seconds behind gold medalist Kjeld Nuis of the Netherlands. My fellow journalists asked Kooreman about Mantia and U.S. skater Mitchell Whitmore -- and then the Davis questions came.

"I think Shani's a skating genius and a legend of our sport," Kooreman said, ready with the soundbite he knew he had been summoned for.

This statement happens to be true. Davis captured the United States' last gold medal in long track speedskating at the 2010 Games. He qualified for Pyeongchang at 35, an age when athletes in his sport are long retired. The 1,000-meter world record -- set by Davis -- is almost a decade old now, and by the looks of it on Friday night, breaking it is going to take something pretty special. He is the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event in the Winter Olympics (2006 Turin). One could go on.

On what was almost certainly his final Olympic night, the audience cheered Davis' name every time it was announced or displayed on the arena screen, acknowledging what he'd accomplished and the likelihood of its ending. After his race -- where he was briefly in third before slipping to seventh -- he circled the track, waving to the crowd, acknowledging them in return. Then he sat down with his peers until the event was over -- and disappeared without a word.

It would appear he's not sorry about it. And he shouldn't be.