Bulls' mental toughness resonates with Olympian Shani Davis

Few know the true meaning of competition like Davis, who won two gold medals and two silver medals between the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games

By Adam Fluck | 04.02.2014

Regardless of the sport, most athletes inevitably will face adversity throughout the course of their careers.

When that happens, it is in a sense the truest test of one’s character and a gauge of their mental toughness.

The Chicago Bulls were seven games under .500 in mid-December. But now, as the NBA Playoffs approach, the team finds itself a season-best 10 games over .500.

It’s that kind of effort and determination that resonates with Chicago native and Olympian speed skater Shani Davis, no stranger to adversity himself.

“Whenever things don’t really go in your favor and the odds are stacked against you, to go out and play with your heart and do what you do because you love to do it means everything,” said Davis while at the United Center for a recent game and AT&T pregame meet and greet with fans.

“When you go out there with a passion and a desire to win, it doesn’t matter who you face,” Davis added. “You go out there and you fight and you scrap and you earn it. So I’ll always have an appreciation because I feel deep down inside, that is what Chicago is all about.”

An avid Bulls fan since a young age, Davis, 31, is among many who respect this Bulls team for how it plays the game. But few know the true meaning of competition like Davis, who won two gold medals and two silver medals between the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

Few know the true meaning of competition like Shani Davis, who won two gold medals and two silver medals between the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

“The Chicago Bulls are fighters and they are rising to the occasion,” said Davis. “Joakim Noah is playing out of his mind, stepping up and putting the weight on his shoulders. Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and all the guys are meshing with each other and it’s unbelievable.”

As Davis knows, winning at the highest level doesn’t come easy. Though he currently holds three world records (1000-meter, 1500-meter, Allround points), Davis participated in three events but did not place at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, Davis responded by capturing two Overall World Cup titles at the World Cup Final the following month.

“I was happy that I could bounce back, re-focus and grab whatever there was left out there for me to take,” said Davis. “It was cool that regardless of what happened—I’m still sad about the Olympics, but I was able to re-gain my focus and get my fighting spirit back to take what was left on the table.”

It’s that kind of work ethic and mentality that makes Davis, back home for the first time in nearly three months, so identifiable for those who follow sports in Chicago.

“Chicago fans are such a die-hard, loyal group,” said Davis. “They stick with you regardless no matter what. They embrace others who work hard and try their best. I feel that with skating, while it’s not a widely televised sport, the people of Chicago have an appreciation for me doing what I do and for where I come from. I represent Chicago everywhere I go and it is great to know the city has my back whether I win or lose. The city supports me and that is all I could ask for.”

Davis was born on the city’s South Side and grew up in Hyde Park before moving north so he could be closer to skating facilities.

He was nine years old when the Bulls claimed their first world championship in 1991 and remembers how upset he was when Chicago had fallen to the Detroit Pistons in years prior. But he points to that everlasting theme of adversity which ultimately made Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls stronger and tougher.

It was around that same time that Davis started to take speed skating more seriously, though little did he know he was destined for greatness.

“I didn’t necessarily know what I was getting myself into,” Davis admits. “I was just having fun. I grew up the only child and when I went to the rink at Robert Crown in Evanston, it was full of children. They kind of brought me in as a little brother. They embraced me and they never shunned me away. I was having fun and I just enjoyed it.

“I simply wanted to skate fast,” added Davis. “Eventually, I started getting faster and better and I looked up and I was winning Olympic championships. But I never strayed away from just wanting to skate fast.”

For Davis and speed skaters like himself, the offseason has arrived. It’s a time to relax, re-focus and recalibrate, as he puts it. Eventually, Davis will decide if he is going to start training towards another round of competition and perhaps one more shot at the Winter Olympics, which in 2018 will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I’m going to take it one year at a time,” said Davis. “I’m really close to being the all-time leader in World Cup victories. I’m 11 away from being No. 1 and 10 away from tying it. So if within four years, I think that I can come closer to that goal, I’ll strive for perfection. And if I find myself in the driver’s seat, in good spirits, motivated, healthy and happy and loving what I’m doing, I’ll give it another try and see what happens.”

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