Shani Davis, a pioneering men’s speedskater who is a five-time Olympian, was raised by a single mother who helped turn his love for rollerskating into an ice skating career. Davis’ mother, Cherie, is a controversial figure in the sport who is known for her alleged feuds with news reporters, athletes, and the speedskating organization.
Shani Davis caused controversy with a tweet that questioned the process used to select the flag bearer for the U.S. team at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Davis accused the American team of “dishonorably” tossing a coin to decide that Erin Hamlin would carry the flag, not Davis. Davis included the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018 with his tweet.
Shani Davis is a groundbreaking Olympian; he was the first black speed skater on the American Olympic team, according to his website. He is the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is his 5th Olympics.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Davis, Who Was Raised in Chicago By His Mother, Cherie, Started Out Rollerskating
Shani Davis started skating at the young age of 2 – at a local roller skating rinks in Chicago, Illinois, where he was born and raised by his mother, Cherie.
“Shani Davis was born on Friday, August 13, 1982, in Chicago, Illinois. Raised by his mother on the city’s south side, he started roller-skating at local rinks at age two. By age four Shani was darting around the roller rink so fast that skate guards would chase him just to ask him to slow down,” according to the biography on his website.
“All we have is each other,” Cherie once said of Shani. Cherie “lived frugally” for years to help fund Shani’s speedskating aspirations, according to an Ebony profile, “driving a 1986 Volkswagen for 16 years.” She raised him as a single mother. Reginald Shuck, Shani’s father, remained involved in his life even though he and Cherie separated when Shani was young, according to Ebony.
2. Cherie Davis Is a Polarizing Figure Who Has Been at Odds With U.S. Speedskating at Times, Reports Say
In 2010, The New York Times wrote that Cherie Davis is a “polarizing” figure, perceived as either “a relentless and necessary protector or a helicopter parent who has hovered in a defensive and alienating manner over her son’s career,” which may have reduced his “popularity and commercial appeal.”
“She has tremendous courage,” Shani said of his mother to The New York Times. Shani has steadfastly defended his mother. “She has probably the biggest heart of anyone I know.” She is also, he said to The Times, “willing to fight.” Shani and Cherie have been in conflict with U.S. Speedskating at timew, even asking that Shani’s biography be left out of its media guide and website, reports The Times.
According to The Chicago Tribune, “Davis’ mother, Cherie Davis, said she was unaware of the tweet until an AP reporter spoke to her by phone.”
Reporters tracked her down to ask about her son’s controversial tweet about the flag bearing. “I know something about a coin toss, he told me last night,” she said, according to the newspaper. “I don’t know anything else. Is that all?”
A Sports Illustrated article on Cherie Davis was called “One Tough Mother.”
“No matter what anybody says or writes about Shani…she flips,” the article contended. “She flips more than a referee’s coin. Her enemies list is just slightly longer than Nixon’s. She has feuds going with Bonnie Blair (who admitted that she wouldn’t mention Shani’s name lest she incur Cherie’s wrath), Bob Costas, Eric Heiden, NBCOlympics.com, SI,” and others,” the story reported. She once accused a newspaper reporter of having a “white supremacist’s agenda,” SI reported.
According to The Los Angeles Times, “Divorced from (Shani’s father Reginald) Shuck when Shani was an infant, Cherie is essentially her son’s coach, manager and bodyguard, famous for firing off nasty e-mails and threats to anyone who she perceives is treating him unfairly.”
3. Cherie Davis Worked for an Attorney Whose Son Was Involved in Elite Level Speedskating
As a child, Shani Davis soon switched from roller skating to ice skating, and his mother’s job for an attorney was instrumental in that. “Seeming to become bored with roller-skating, a coach suggested that Shani switch to ice skating. Shortly thereafter, his mother started working for an attorney whose son happened to be involved in speed skating at an elite level and who suggested that Shani give speed skating a try,” says the bio.
According to his website, “Shani joined the Evanston Speedskating Club at age six and within two months started competing locally. Though immediately thrilled by the sport’s speed, at competitions Shani was generally more interested in running around with his skating friends and playing video games than he was with competing.”
However, he was winning competitions by age eight, and even though there are “no speed skating clubs in inner city Chicago, at age 10 Shani and his mother moved to the far north side of the city to be closer to the Evanston rink,” the biography says, quoting Shani as saying of his mother: “My mom never thought of herself first. I credit most of my success to her. She continues to manage my career and is always there for me.”
The Washington Post reports that Fred Benjamin, the former president of U.S. Speedskating, “once employed Shani’s mother, Cherie, as a legal secretary.”
“He (Shani Davis) feels there are many occasions he’s been hurt [by U.S. Speedskating] but I can’t truly point to one and say, absolutely, he’s been hurt,” said Benjamin, to the Post in 2005. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
4. Davis Is the Father of a Young Son & Shani’s Dad Is a Realtor
Davis keeps his private life just that: Private. In 2013, he responded to a joking tweet from someone asking to marry him by saying he didn’t have a wife: “Lol, sorry right now I’m happily married to skating! might separate after 2018, though.” Shani is the father to a 9-year-old son named Ayize, which is Zulu for “let it come.” Little is known about Shani Davis’ girlfriend, although, by some reports, she is Japanese.
Shani’s father, who goes by the name Reggie Shuck, is a realtor in Chicago. “Reggie Shuck is a real estate consultant who has closed over 50 million dollars of Real Estate transactions. He has also had the opportunity to use his skillset to teach Real Estate Fundamentals at Chicago City Colleges and is an advocate for affordable housing,” says PropertyConsultants.com.
“Reggie has been married for over 30 years and has two adult children, one of which is an Olympic gold medal winner and other is enrolled at New York University. In Reggie’s spare time he coaches girls high school and is a member of the Chicago Urban League.”
5. Shani’s Mother Sometimes Wears the National Colors of the Netherlands During Her Son’s Competitions
Davis is especially beloved to Dutch fans, according to NBC, where his “graceful and elegant style of skating” is admired. As a result, he has earned Dutch sponsorships. In fact, his mother Cherie in previous years wore the national colors of the Netherlands at events, ESPN reports.
Shani Davis “is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of long track speedskating,” according to TeamUSA.org. He has the hardware to show for it. According to NBC News, “he’s the first African-American athlete and first black athlete from any country to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics.”
“He has won four Olympic medals – back-to-back golds in the 1,000-meter and back-to-back silvers in the 1,500 in 2006 and 2010 – in addition to 30 world championship medals. With more than 100 world cup medals to his name, he is also the all-time leader in world cup points,” the team site reports.
According to NBC, “He also currently holds two world records, in the 1000m and 1500m. Both of the records were set at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City in 2009.”