Davis had yet to finish a World Cup race at his specialty distances the 1,000 and 1,500 without having at least one of the powerful Dutch skaters ahead of him, mostly because he felt he did not have sufficient "snap" in his legs after doing a lot of distance training in the fall.
But after several weeks of focusing on "snap, speed, strength, reaction, agility things that make me faster," he bounced back to clock 1 minute, 7.20 seconds and beat Canada's Denny Morrison by 0.19 seconds.
Davis was still nearly a second off his world-record time of 1:06.42 set here almost three years ago, but said his victory proves his training is "heading in the right direction."
Plus, it highlighted an impressive four-medal day for the Americans.
Heather Richardson enjoyed a breakout performance by claiming silver in the 1,000 and bronze in the 500 the first medals for the American women this season while Tucker Fredricks won a medal at his third straight World Cup stop with a bronze in the 500.
"It was my goal" to get back on the podium, Richardson said, "but I was definitely surprised."
That's because she had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee in September, and felt as if she had recovered to full strength only last month.
"It was achy all through the fall World Cups," she said.
But while she is fully fit again, Richardson couldn't quite measure up to reigning Olympic gold medalist Christine Nesbitt of Canada, who clocked a season-best 1:13.37 in the final pairing of the 1,000 to beat Richardson by 0.62 seconds.
Nesbitt is unbeaten at the distance this season.
Many of the skaters marveled at the fan turnout at the Oval, which officials estimated at around 4,000. Seemingly every seat was taken, and the parking lot was jammed.
"I've never seen so many people out here, cheering for speedskating," said Davis, who plans to race at the World Sprint Speedskating Championships next weekend in Calgary. "I would have to say the most I've ever seen here was at the Olympics, and then now, today."
World Cup Speedskating results
At the Utah Olympic Oval, Saturday
Men's 500 meters
Gold • Keiichiro Nagashima, Japan, 34.38 seconds
Silver • Jan Smeekens, Netherlands, 34.40
Bronze • Tucker Fredricks, USA, 34.45
Gold • Sang-Hwa Lee, Korea, 37.37 seconds
Silver • Nao Kodaira, Japan, 37.42
Bronze • Heather Richardson, USA, 37.58
Gold • Shani Davis, USA, 1:07.20
Silver • Denny Morrison, Canada, 1:07.39
Bronze • Stefan Groothuis, Netherlands, 1:07.45
Gold • Christine Nesbitt, Canada, 1:13.37
Silver • Heather Richardson, USA, 1:13.99
Bronze • Ireen Wust, Netherlands, 1:14.51