Happy Birthday, Shani Davis!

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Professional African-American ice skater and Olympic gold and silver medalist Shani Davis (pictured) is used to reaching and eclipsing a few milestones here and there and will be celebrating another by turning 30 years of age on Monday. The Chicago native’s historic showing in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics still resonates in the minds of fans who were thrilled by Shani’s achievement on the ice. But before Shani was shattering world records, he was a small boy who had a natural talent for the sport he would eventually conquer.

Shani Davis’s father, Reginald Shuck, chose his son’s name out of a Swahili dictionary. The name translates into “light” and “weight” – an apt descriptor of the young speedster’s prowess in the skating rink as a toddler. By age 3, he would become so fast that he was warned by skating rink officials to slow down.

With his mother’s assistance, Shani would come under the tutelage of skating instructors at the Robert Crown Center in nearby Evanston. Living in Chicago’s tony Hyde Park district, Shani’s mom would move north to Rogers Park so that her son would benefit from stricter training.

Shani’s mom played a huge role in inspiring her boy’s climb atop the ranks. She would wake her son up daily to run at a track near their home, so that he could maintain his strength. At age 16, Shani caught the attention of a skating development team in Lake Placid, New York, and trained there for a year.

Shani caught the Olympics bug while in New York, then moved to Marquette, Mich., and graduated from high school while also starring in track and field. As a junior level skater in 2000, he became the first U.S. skater to make the long and short track skate teams.

Davis would make the 2002 Winter Olympics team, although his inclusion was mired in controversy after speculation that teammates Apolo Ohno and Rusty Smith threw the race in favor of Shani because he would need a win to get a slot and they already were part of the team.

Shani, however, would nix the games in favor of the Junior World Championships, where he dominated.  The next year, Shani would go pro and he didn’t fare as well against older competitors. In 2005, he would capture a Bronze medal as part of the World Short Track Championship team alongside Ohno.

Watch Shani become the 1500m champion in 2009 here:

At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, Shani Davis would become the first Black athlete to ever win an individual gold medal in any event (speed skating, 1000 meters). He would also capture silver in the 1500m event that same year. Shani would go on to defend his gold 1000m crown in the 2010 Winter Olympics and would repeat as the 1500m silver medalist.

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