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  America
Speedskating's Apolo Anton Ohno
By Eric Gold
Olympic Staff Writer
Apolo Anton Ohno

Four years ago, Apolo Anton Ohno was the poster boy of the Salt Lake City Games, taking two short track speedskating medals, including a gold that steamed the South Korean delegates.

The 23-year-old will try to build on that fiery experience with his trip to Torino in February.

During the 2002 Winter Olympics, there was a tremendous build-up for a young man who had overcome several life obstacles and had hopes for four medals. Ohno ended up winning a silver in the 1000 meters and the gold in the 1500 after the disqualification of Korean Kim Dong-Sung.

Kim finished first in the 1500 meters, but an Australian referee ruled that he illegally blocked Ohno with a half-lap remaining. That caused a furor for the South Korean Olympic team. They protested the disqualification, which was upheld by the International Skating Union.

Newspapers in South Korea picked up the story saying that Kim was "robbed of his gold." In the days after, Ohno received more than 16,000 threatening e- mails, mostly from South Korea.

"I was really bothered by it," Ohno said of the negativity. "I grew up around many Asian cultures, Korean one of them. A lot of my best friends were Korean growing up. I just didn't understand. Later on I realized that was built up by certain people and that was directed at me, negative energy from other things, not even resulting around the sport, but around politics, using me to stand on the pedestal as the anti-American sentiment."

What made it even tougher to take is Ohno's father, Yuki, who raised his on his own, is Japanese-American.

However, after the Olympics, the South Koreans seemed to have a better understanding of Ohno's position and were surprised by his dedication to the sport. This past October, Ohno made a trip to Seoul for the World Cup.

"I think part of it was hyped up quite a bit," said Ohno, who acknowledged there was a huge media blitz. "There were certain people within the organization who were manifesting this image of me as an anti-American sentiment, trying to mend them together. I play no role. I'm just competing. I was really happy with the crowd's reaction. Short track is very big in Korea."

During that World Cup, most of the U.S. team came down with flu-like symptoms, but Ohno was still anxious to compete. He made the final of one event, but was then disqualified. Ohno was disqualified in the 500 meters the following day. Sunday, the last day of the event, Ohno said he felt the worst, but still went to the ice because he felt a need to not let the fans down.

"I felt horrible," Ohno said. "I didn't even make it to the banquet after. I almost always go to the banquet. It was definitely running me down."

Short track speedskating is unlike any other sport in that athletes race around the rink at approximately 35 miles-per-hour on a 1.0 millimeter blade, making turns akin to a professional motorcycle racer, who nearly touches his knee to the pavement. Skaters almost have to use their hands to scrape the ice to prevent a devastating fall.

What makes it so difficult to win is timing the passes and making sure not to bump into another skater, which is illegal. It's nearly impossible to pass someone on a curve and taking an inside pass can be risky, let alone a double pass.

Although two or more skaters from one country could compete in the same race, team skating is illegal in short track. Two or more athletes from the same country in a race cannot combine to impede another competitor.

However, Ohno said during his recent trip to South Korea, it seemed most fans there were oblivious to that rule.

"I've seen almost every country do it." Ohno said. "If you go over to Asia and you say 'team skating' they'll have no idea what you are talking about. They'll be like, 'oh that's illegal, oh really that's interesting.' It's hard, very hard. Two or three (athletes) of any of the same country in any race is hard. I'll have to overcome that and that's a big challenge."

The reason Ohno is in the limelight isn't just because of his looks, with his bandana-laced forehead or his goatee. It's because of the odds he's overcome. Ohno left his father at the age of 14 to hone his skills at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. The seven-time U.S. short track overall champion from Seattle has already written an autobiography and is a hit with the women because of his looks.

Since his Olympic success in 2002, Ohno has become one of the well-known faces in the Winter Games for the U.S., and he's dabbled in some of that fame.

"I was going to after-Oscar parties. I was mingling with the Hollywood crowd," Ohno said. "It's really easy to become distracted when you have opportunities to do that kind of stuff. There's no way I would ever turn that stuff down, but it's important for me to realize why I'm here, what I'm trying to do and the goals I'm trying to accomplish."

Other than the Oscar soirees, Ohno has called his life pretty boring and said that not much has changed in the last four years.

"My life in general has been pretty much the same," Ohno said. "I try to live the same lifestyle I was in 2002. I want to keep the same values."

He's been living at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs and Ohno says that instant access has helped him progress faster to the Torino Games.

"I think I'm better all around as a skater," Ohno said. "Physically, I think I'm definitely stronger. I'm lighter, I'm leaner, I know a lot more about my body."

Just like 2002, Ohno again will try to become the only American other than Eric Heiden to capture at least four medals at one Winter Olympics. Heiden won five golds at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

The above article is from Sports Network.




 

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