Shani Davis, rap's unsung speedskating hero

Shani Davis, rap's unsung speedskating hero

Given that overcoming of adversity is a cornerstone of the traditional hip-hop narrative, it's curious -- downright bizarre, some might say -- that chart rap just spent four years not rapping about Shani Davis. Davis, a Team USA speedskater who competed at the 2006 winter Olympic games in Turin, Italy, won gold and silver medals in the men's 1,000 and 1,500 meter events, respectively. Also, unusually, he's African-American; American winter Olympics athletes are overwhelmingly Caucasian. On top of that, Davis earned these medals while being mercilessly castigated by fans, the media, and teammates for refusing to compete in a team skating event.

In a televised interview following the men's 1,000 meter event, Davis was asked, "Shani, are you angry?" The skater seemed to be boiling, on edge, biting back bitterness.

I can't remember what his answer to that particular question was. But in a Games chock full of big, resonant moments, that's the one that stuck with me, the one that seemed to have significance and staying power, the one that I was sure would ultimately become symbolic.

Then, nothing. Zip. Zilch.

Shani who? Winter Olympics, whaaaaaaaaaa?

It's like Davis' success never happened -- or maybe notable rappers don't watch the winter Olympics.

In any event, big-time rap shrugged and continued to screw together and spit hot sixteens wherein rappers compared themselves to seasonal star players from the NBA, NFL, and MLB. And Tiger Woods. And NASCAR legends. (After the 2008 summer Olympics, Jamacian sprinter/egomaniac Usain Bolt and hulking freak-of-nature Michael Phelps joined this august consort.)

Big-time rap -- the refuge and celebrant of longshots that paid off -- couldn't be bothered to salute an athlete of unusual achievement, an athlete whose personal history of adversity and perseverance lent itself to event rap. Instead, big-time rap high-fived Barry Bonds.

When the 2010 Olympic winter games begin next month in Vancouver, Shani Davis will be back. This time, he'll have his eye on five gold medals; he's already had some choice words for a certain farcical right-wing pundit. (Shani, you may have been taking Mssr. Colbert too seriously.) Let's see whether or not rap generally -- or at least Lil Wayne, an admitted sports fanatic -- pays attention this time.

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