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US Speedskater Shani Davis Sets Sights on Olympic History

African-American male speedskater Shani Davis has the talent to become one of the brightest stars at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The 2005 long track Allround World Champion is trying to become the first American to compete in both short track and long track speedskating in the same Olympics.

Skating has always been important to 23-year-old Shani Davis. He was raised by his mother on the tough south side of Chicago, and started roller-skating at the age of two. By the time he was three, roller-skating rink guards were already trying to get him to slow down.

Because of Shani's "need for speed," when he was six his teacher suggested that he switch from roller to ice skating. Around that same time, Shani's mother learned about the Evanston Speedskating Club from her boss. Before long, Shani was competing.

In a sport in which there are few African-Americans, he was winning regional competitions for his age group by the time he was eight. With no rinks in the inner city, Shani and his mother moved to the city's north side to be closer to the ice.

Between 1995 and 2003, Shani won five National Age Group championships and also captured a North American Championship in 1999. At the age of 17 he made history by becoming the first U.S. skater to earn a place on both the short and long track Junior World teams - a feat he accomplished three years in a row (2000-2002). Davis says it was something he had been preparing for for a long time.

"I grew up skating short track and long track," he said. "For me it is just a way of life, you know, something I have been doing since I was seven and eight years old. And that is something that I cherish and I do not want to give it up. And I use it to my advantage. Sometimes you get tired of skating the short track. You get tired of the equipment, you get tired of the physicality. You take a break and go skate long track and then when you have enough of that, you go right back and you feel refreshed."

In another landmark, Davis became the first African-American to make the U.S. Olympic speedskating team for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

"It means something, it does not matter what color I am," he said. "Black or White, Asian or Hispanic, it does not matter to me as long as the message that I am portraying to the people that watch me on television is positive. And it shows them that they can do things that are different than besides tossing a football, hitting a bat at a baseball or shooting a basketball. I am just showing them that stepping outside of that bubble is okay."

Though coaches did not select him to race at the last Winter Olympics, Shani Davis came into his own in the 2004-2005 season. He captured his third straight U.S. Long Track championship, set a new world record in the 1,500 meters and went on to win the 2005 Allround Championships in Moscow.

Earlier this year Shani made history again by earning spots on the World Team in both short and long track for the second season in a row. Davis talks about the differences between the two disciplines.

"In long track, placement really does not matter, because you are out there just for yourself, you are skating against the clock," he said. "Whereas in short track you are skating against other competitors that have different strategies and things like that. There is no really big difference because, I am just out there to skate and have fun."

In November, Shani Davis set a new world record in the 1,000 meters, posting a time of 1:07.03. He continues to train in long and short track and aspires to make both teams and compete for medals in both disciplines this February at the Turin Olympics.