Like the 1000m, the 1500m is Shani Davis's race to lose. He is the reigning world champion, the current world record holder, and won four of the five pre-Olympic World Cup events in the distance (all of his wins was by more than one second). Davis claimed the silver medal in Torino, behind Italy's Enrico Fabris. Though Fabris will be in the Vancouver field, he is not expected to be a threat to win in 2010, especially withouth the home ice boost.
Davis shattered his own world record in the 1500m in December in Salt Lake City. His winning time, a blistering 1:41.04, was more than three-quarters of a second faster than the previous world record and stunned many of the sport's longtime observers. One veteran Dutch journalist called it one of the most amazing races he'd ever seen. Speed skaters usually build up their endurance base throughout the season and peak with their fastest times at the end of the year. For Davis to skate that fast then raised the question of whether he was peaking too soon. The overwhelming consensus was that he had not. The 27-year-old Chicago native said he knows he can skate even faster.
Don't expect that faster time to occur in Vancouver, however. The ice in Vancouver is considered "slower" than the Salt Lake surface, which is the "fastest" ice in the world, though these terms are somewhat misleading. The varying speeds achieved on different ice surfaces are largely due to the air. The Richmond Olympic Oval, the 2010 venue, is at sea level, while Salt Lake boasts the world's highest-altitude track at 4,675 feet. Thinner air creates less resistance (and harder ice), which means faster times.
Davis' toughest competition is likely to all be "friendly fire", in the names of three North American skaters. Over the past few years, Canada's Denny Morrison and Davis have been consistently the best two skaters in the 1500m. Morrison won the 2008 world title in the 1500m, and held the world record until Davis broke it in March 2009 (Davis broke his own record again in December 2009). Morrison and Davis are friendly rivals, dating back to the years Davis spent training with Morrison in Calgary. Following Torino, Canadian speed skating officials ceased allowing foreign athletes to train with their coaches and elite athletes, but Davis and Morrison retain a good relationship. Morrison credits Davis with pushing him to become a stronger athlete. One day, when both were training in short track, Morrison thought he had reached a natural quitting point, satisfied with the work he'd done for the day. Davis went over to him, and gave him a hard time, suggesting he shouldn't quit so easy and learn to push his limits.
Chad Hedrick, who won a medal of each color in Torino, including bronze in the 1500m, won the only World Cup 1500m race of the 2009-10 season that Davis did not, in Calgary in early December. It was Hedrick's first international victory since March 2006. Hedrick, now a married father with another child on the way, is a new man, and a re-configured skater. "I'm a smarter skater now," Hedrick said in mid-December. "I'm not in as good a shape as I was in 2006 and I probably won't be. But I've realized now that there is a lot more to the sport than I did before."
Think of Hedrick as the baseball pitcher on the backside of a career who finds a way to win despite losing some velocity from his fastball. The Hedrick we see in Vancouver will be closer to the crafty David Cone who helped the New York Yankees win four World Series between 1996 and 2000 than the fireballer who first rose to prominence with the New York Mets in the late 1980s.
If this "what to look for" were being written at the end of the 2008-09 season, it would have featured Trevor Marsicano prominently in the medal discussion. Marsicano had a breakout season in 2008-09, and was the 2009 world silver medalist in the 1500m. He struggled in 2009-10, however, set back by a bout with the flu while the World Cup circuit was in Europe. While Marsicano and his personal coach, Paul Marchese, have said that their plan was to peak in February, his results were so far off that the question of whether he has built up enough of an endurance base to perform well at the Games is a pertinent one.
Also in the mix are the long distance specialists, namely Dutchman Sven Kramer and Norwegian Havard Bokko. They, along with Italy's Fabris, all finished in the top eight at the 2009 Single Distance Worlds in this event, but it is not their strong suit. All three finished in the top eight at the 2009 World Single Distances Championships and reached the World Cup podium at various times throughout the season.