By Larry Fine
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick feuded during the Turin Games but the American skaters turned the Vancouver 1,000 meters into an American love fest at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Wednesday.
Four years ago, a shy Davis clutched a little teddy bear he had dubbed 'Shani Jr.' during his victory lap in Turin.
This time he rejoiced with arms raised, fingers pointing out who was undeniably number one and gave high-fives to members of the U.S. squad before holding the American flag on the podium with bronze medalist Hedrick.
"It was my moment, it's my party," Davis told reporters. "I can celebrate, I can dance. I have earned it."
Davis and Hedrick, who clashed in Turin over a decision by Davis not to compete in the Team Pursuit, this time combined to put the United States on the Vancouver medals map after the Americans failed to reach the podium in the first four events.
Hedrick, returning to the Games at age 32 after winning gold, silver and bronze medals in 2006, finished behind 500 meters winner Mo Tae-bum of South Korea, who took the silver.
"People misread us (in 2006)," Hedrick said about U.S. duo. "We just wanted to win. The other stuff is now old news.
"We just want to have fun. Hats off to Shani. This guy is just unbelievable."
Davis, 27, who has not lost a 1,000 meters race this season, said this victory topped his list.
"It means so much to me that I was able to defend," he said. "Once you become world champion or Olympic champion you get this nice little thing on your back. It's called a target.
Going faster than world number two Mo's target time of 1:09.12 took all he had.
"That race depleted me 100 percent," Davis said, adding he found it taxing to finish in the outer lane. "The last 200, 300 meters was very difficult. But it was more rewarding in the end because it was more difficult."
Davis has been a U.S. speed skating maverick, acting independently from the federation. But after his victory, he credited some coaches for guiding his training.
"One of the biggest factors that helped me win the gold medal today was my training with the (U.S.) short track national team," said former short track skater Davis, who will be favored to grab another gold in the upcoming 1,500 meters.
"We have two wonderful coaches with Korean backgrounds, Jimmy Jang and Jae-su Chun. They both helped me very much. I'm really happy I was allowed to train with the short track team. It gave me a trick or two."
(Editing by Ossian Shine)