04 March 2011 – THE NETHERLANDS
Shani Davis couldn’t have scripted a more compelling scenario as the clock winds down on the ISU World Cup season.
Think Michael Jordan entering Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks in a Playoff Game 7.
Replace the legendary basketball court with the hallowed Thialf speedskating oval, and you have the 2010-2011 ISU World Cup Final in Heerenveen, The Netherlands, being contested this weekend, March 4-6.
At stake are the 1500m and 1000m Overall World Cup crowns, which Shani has worn since the 2007-2008 season, and which a squad of Dutch skaters would like to claim for their own.
Coming off another podium finish at the most recent 1500m World Cup in Salt Lake City, the math is simple for Shani in Heerenveen on Saturday: Win the final 1500m race, win the overall title.
Standing at 290 total points, a victory at Thialf ensures Shani’s record fourth-straight World Cup 1500m Overall title. His 12 individual 1500m World Cup victories already rank second all-time to Norwegian great Adne Sondral (18), the only other skater to claim three Overall titles in the distance.
The current 1500m leader is Shani’s U.S. teammate Trevor Marsicano (301 points), who won races this season in Salt Lake City and Hamar, Norway. The U.S. twosome will race each other in the day’s final pairing.
With World Cup points multiplied by 1.5 at the Final, there are also three other skaters who could triumph in the overall with a win in Heerenveen, including a Norwegian and a pair of Dutch skaters who will be racing in front of their countrymen.
Whatever the 1500m result, Shani faces an even greater challenge in the 1000m on Sunday, where he’ll need some help to prevail in the World Cup standings even if victorious at the Final.
After skipping World Cup events in China and Moscow earlier in the season, Shani finds himself third in the 1000m, 50 points behind Dutch skater Stefan Groothius, who can win the Overall with a top-3 finish even if Shani skates to a 150-point victory.
Shani is the runaway career leader in World Cup 1000m wins (32) and he currently stands 4th on the men’s all-time individual World Cup victory list with 44, only two behind legendary U.S. sprinter Dan Jansen, who also has seven career Overall World Cup titles.
Following the World Cup Final, Shani heads for Inzell, Germany, site of the season-ending 2011 World Single Distance Championships, where he looks to defend his 1500m World Championship title and regain the 1000m crown that he last won in 2008.
[Photo by Martin De Jong]