Photographer: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Photographer: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

For the second day in a row, an American star had a chance to make history at the Winter Olympics. And for the second day in a row, history slipped away in a matter of seconds.

Shani Davis, a pioneer for black athletes in winter sports, came well short of his quest to become the first man to win gold in three consecutive Winter Games. Davis finished 8th in the 1,000-meter speedskate, appearing to skate through pain in the race’s final lap. The world record holder battled a hamstring injury throughout 2013, but ended the year strong, winning the U.S. Olympic trials in December. On Wednesday, the gold-medal favorite finished .73 seconds off the pace of 1:08:39, set by champion Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.

Like Shaun White before him, however, Davis’ loss does little to change his enormous contributions to his sport. A kid from Chicago’s South Side, who half-jokingly says he developed his penchant for speed from outrunning tougher kids, has forever changed the face of speedskating and winter sports at large, opening a predominantly white sporting world to a new generation of black athletes. This year’s American team is emblematic of the sport’s diverse future, featuring Latino skaters Eddy Alvarez and Jonathan Garcia.

Davis’ earlier years were notable for his off-track issues with the media, fellow teammates, and even the U.S. Olympic Committee, whom his mother publicly accused of failing to support her son. After years of skating with an understandable chip on his shoulder, the 31-year-old seems to have embraced his place in a spotlight that likely would have ignored him two decades ago. But Davis forced us to pay attention, quickly proving that he was the best skater of his generation of any color. His will go down as one of the greatest Olympic careers in U.S. history, with two gold medals in the 1,000-meter and two silvers in the 1,500. Wednesday’s loss may have been a stunning upset, but Davis will forever be remembered for disrupting a sport he would eventually rule.

(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)

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