TURIN, Italy – It is one gold down and four to go for speedskater Chad Hedrick, and along the way will come a debate about what it means to be a teammate.
Hedrick's only problem in winning the 5,000 meters here Saturday was shaking off so much pre-race anxiety and emotion he actually broke down, cried and needed a bunch of hugs from his family in the stands to regroup.
"I just needed to do one lap," he said.
Once he got that done, he went on to win easily (in 6:14.68), just missing the Olympic record by .02 on an oval that is considered slow.
The guy is a machine. Four years ago, he was sitting with his father at a Las Vegas blackjack table when the Winter Olympics flashed on a nearby TV. The reigning world champion inline skater, Hedrick watched a former inline teammate win a medal and figured he should give this ice thing a shot.
And just like that, the 28-year-old is the world's best. He has a realistic chance of tying the great Eric Heiden as the only American to win five gold medals in a single Winter Games, a goal Hedrick set for himself.
"I'm here to win gold medals," he said.
But to win five of them, he needs some help. In addition to the 5,000, Hedrick will enter three individual races – 1,000, 1,500 and 10,000. But to get the clean sweep, Hedrick needs to be part of a winning group in his next competition – the team pursuit, which begins Wednesday.
To do that, it would help if Shani Davis, one of America's best, competed. But Davis isn't planning on it. He wants to concentrate on individual events in this, an almost exclusively individual sport.
And so the debate rages.
"I'm not going to beg Shani to skate pursuit with me," said Hedrick Saturday. "Now my goals are the 1,000 meters, the 1,500 meters, the 10,000. Those are my goals. Then the pursuit. We are going to go out and I am going to make my team the best that I can.
"But I am not here to beg people to race. If he feels it is not right for him to do it because of other things; that is his prerogative. I am going to let him do what he thinks is best for him. That is just his way."
The easy reaction is that Davis should be a good teammate and skate the pursuit, push Hedrick on toward history. But Davis has his own definition of being a good teammate.
Davis wants the alternates, who are here in Turin but not qualified for individual races, to have a chance to skate. The reality, he says, is almost no one cares about winning team pursuit; it is just a strange event in a sport which really has no teams.
By giving up his spot on the team pursuit, Davis gives one more person the thrill of competing in the Games. He knows what that would mean because in 2002, he was one of those guys, only he never got to skate.
"It was a difficult decision for me," Davis said. "Athletes came here just for [team] pursuit. I came here just for the 1,000 meters, the 1,500 meters, the 5,000 meters."
Davis is, in essence, prioritizing the dreams of an unknown skater over that of a famous one. Who wants to argue with that?
Not Hedrick. At least, it seems, not directly.
Of course, there is a secondary argument, one where Davis, by sitting out the team pursuit that requires two days of skating, will be fresher when he matches up with a potentially tired Hedrick in the Feb. 18 1,000 meters.
It may be the only way Davis can beat Hedrick head-to-head. There is little question it is an advantage.
Needless to say, the tension between the two skaters seems obvious. This isn't much of a team, no matter how much everyone is talking about it.
"I told everybody before we had a really, really good chance if Shani skated," Hedrick said. "It looks like he might not do it. I will go and do my best to help my team.
"I am a team player."
Don't think for a second that wasn't directed at Shani Davis.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Saturday, Feb 11, 2006 6:26 pm EST