Ohno in pursuit of record 7th Winter Olympic medal
AP Sports Writer
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Apolo Anton Ohno knows what awaits him as he attempts to careen into U.S. Olympic history.
“Tomorrow is going to b caaraazzzy! Can u dig it?” the short-track speedskater tweeted before practice Friday at Pacific Coliseum.
Ohno resumes his quest for a seventh career Olympic medal in Saturday’s 1,000 meters. A victory would break his six-medal tie with long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated American Winter Olympian.
First, though, Ohno has to get to the final. He’ll have to survive quarterfinal and semifinal rounds to earn a shot at his second medal of these games. He already won a silver in the 1,500.
It won’t be easy. Aside from the usual thrills and spills that make short track so unpredictable, Ohno is facing his biggest rivals – the powerful South Koreans.
They were on track to sweep the medals in the 1,500 until two of them crashed in the final turn, allowing Ohno and teammate J.R. Celski to claim silver and bronze. Lee Jung-su won the gold.
Lee, along with Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak, who both crashed, are back to challenge Ohno in the 1,000, along with Celski. They already advanced through the preliminaries.
“The 1,000 is going to be much different and very fast, and there’s going to be a lot more contact,” Ohno said this week.
He is public enemy No. 1 among short-track fans in South Korea, where he received death threats in 2003. After he shared the podium with Lee last weekend, thousands of angry anti-Ohno e-mails shut down the U.S. Olympic Committee server for nine hours.
Ohno nearly crashed in the 1,500 when he got tangled up with Sung, actually sticking out his right arm to fend off the South Korean – and perhaps keep himself upright as he stumbled.
“The Korean had put his left hand over and blocked me, and that’s how I lost a lot of my speed,” he said earlier. “If it wasn’t for that, the outcome would’ve been much different in the race if I hadn’t gotten impeded on.”
Ohno believed Sung’s bump allowed his South Korean teammates who were trailing at the time to catch up late in the race. He thought there should’ve been a disqualification.
“Ohno didn’t deserve to stand on the same medal platform as me,” gold medalist Lee told Yonhap News Agency. “I was so enraged that it was hard for me to contain myself during the victory ceremony.”
If the hatred and controversy bothers him, Ohno isn’t letting on.
“Nothing new-same ol’ obstacles and challenges-I love for this!!!” he tweeted Friday. He typically doesn’t talk to media the day before he competes.
Ohno has been the face of his capricious sport since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, when he won a gold in the 1,500 and a silver in the 1,000. He single-handedly made short track a nightly sellout, prompting fans to don fake soul patches and bandanas in his likeness.
Four years ago in Turin, Ohno added a gold and two bronze medals to his collection.
His popularity crossed over to the mainstream in 2007, when he won the mirrorball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Heading into the Olympics, Ohno’s face was plastered on TV and magazines as a popular product endorser. Winning more medals will only increase his off-ice options should he decide to retire, as he has said he might after Vancouver.
Perhaps because these games could be his last, Ohno has appeared upbeat off the ice and calm on it, yawning frequently as he warms up before competition.
“I’ve always done that,” he said this week. “My dad calls me the old lion.”
Ohno’s father, Japan-born Yuki, remains a strong presence in his only son’s life. Working as a hairstylist, he raised Ohno alone after the boy’s mother left early on. Not an easy task, either, with Ohno describing himself as “a kid who had a lot of energy and was out of control a lot of times.”
Their bond is more friendship than parent-child these days, with Ohno turning to his father for advice about everything in his life. They shared a car ride after practice Friday, with Ohno cracking up seeing his father jamming to Bob Marley.
“He’s really been the backbone of my support group. He knows when I’m up and when I’m down,” Ohno said this week.
The lure of competing in his third Olympics just a few hours from his hometown of Seattle kept Ohno training and competing another four years instead of pursuing his interest in a Hollywood career.
An up-and-down season last year and the increased speed of other skaters prompted Ohno to remake himself. He’s noticeably lighter and leaner – gone is the pudginess that once earned him the nickname “Chunkie.” He said his body fat is a scant 2.8 percent.
Ohno’s skating style hasn’t changed much. He often lags the pack during the early laps before slipping through with a smooth inside move or circling multiple skaters on the outside of the tight turns and short straightaways.
The 27-year-old skater has two medals of each color, having surpassed Eric Heiden as the most decorated American male at the Winter Games. He’s also earned the most short-track medals since the sport joined the Olympics in 1992.
Blair is sanguine about giving up her record to Ohno.
“When I do see him, I’m definitely going to congratulate him,” she said earlier this week. “It’s awesome for him, and it’s awesome for the sport.”
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