Hundreds of fans packed the large ice rink at Robert Crown Center on March 18 to welcome Olympic gold medalist and world speed-skating champion Shani Davis back to his home ice.
It may have seemed unusual for a man whose professional life is measured in tenths of a second to spend some 30 minutes sitting still on the ice on a makeshift dais in the middle of the big rink, but Mr. Davis appeared to manage with aplomb the enumeration of his accolades: gold medalist in the 1,000 meter and silver medalist in the 1,500 meter races, world speed-skating champion multiple times in multiple races, the first African-American to win a gold medal in the winter Olympics and, as one person put it, “the fastest man on skates.”
Mr. Davis began skating at Robert Crown when he was 6 years old, said Sanders Hicks, Mr. Davis’s first coach. “Shani is a fantastic worker. He knows what he has to do to compete well in skating,” Mr. Hicks said.
Robert Lloyd, manager at Robert Crown, said that, although many places now wish to claim Mr. Davis, “Evanston is the only place that can say, ‘Shani trained here.’”
This was the second time Robert Crown and the City have formally welcomed Mr. Davis. “You were given the keys to the City a few years ago by [then Mayor] Lorraine Morton,” Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told Mr. Davis. “We’ve not changed the locks.” She added, “This City Council is working very hard to make Robert Crown a place we can always be proud of.” She also read a proclamation that April 2010 will be Shani Davis Month in Evanston. The proclamation cited Mr. Davis’s “exceptional work ethic and strength of character” and welcomed him back to Robert Crown Center.
Fourth Ward Alderman Donald Wilson said, “Robert Crown is a special place – not just the bricks and mortar but the people make it special.” He recounted that Mr. Hicks’s method of off-season coaching was modeled on the off-season training of Chicago Bears football legend Walter Payton: The skaters repeatedly ran up Mt. Trashmore (the tall hill in James Park). He presented Mr. Davis with a plaque recognizing his achievements.
“When I’m skating, I’m thinking of my home in Chicago and the people in Evanston,” Mr. Davis told the crowd, who had been chanting, “Shani, Shani, Shani,” as he was introduced. He held up his two 2010 Olympic medals and said the silver one “lacks a little bit and will be enough to keep me in the sport for another four years.” Looking at the members of the Evanston Speed Skating Club and other Robert Crown-based skaters seated at his right in the big rink, he said, “Work hard; believe in yourself. You’ll be rewarded.