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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ohno secure about his place in Olympic history


BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Apolo Anton Ohno replayed memories of winning his sixth Olympic medal over and over in his head after he turned out the lights.

He woke up Sunday feeling secure about his place in history, having tied long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the winningest U.S. Winter Olympian.

"In my sport, it is very, very difficult to come to back-to-back Olympic Games and medal. Rarely does it happen because the field is so deep and the talent is so strong," Ohno said during a conference call. "That proves to me that I've stood the test of time. I've been one of the top athletes in the world over and over again."

Ohno earned a silver medal in the 1,500-meter final Saturday night when two South Koreans took each other out in a crash on the final turn. Lee Jung-su of South Korea won the gold, while J.R. Celski got the bronze, giving the United States two medalists for the first time in an Olympic short-track event.

"It's a fantastic start to my third Olympic Games," Ohno said. "It feels amazing. I can leave here with no regrets."

The 27-year-old skater could leave Vancouver with more hardware. Ohno next skates on Wednesday in the 1,000 heats and the 5,000 relay semifinals.

If he advances, his chance to surpass Blair will be next Saturday in the 1,000 final.

"The 1,000 is going to be much different and very fast, and there's going to be a lot more contact," he said. "I proved to myself and the other athletes the power and strength that I brought to these games."

Ohno came to Vancouver the leanest he's been, boasting on Twitter that his body fat percentage is 2.8. The typical percentage for a male athlete is 6 percent to 13 percent.

"I've come into these Olympic Games in the best shape in my life," he said. "I have no pressures. I'm so lucky to have more events to compete in. There's many athletes who only have one chance to medal."

Ohno now has two medals of each color, surpassing Eric Heiden as the most decorated American male at the Winter Games. He's also earned the most short track medals since the wild-and-wooly sport joined the Olympics in 1992.

"For me it was a historical night regardless whether I had tied a record or not. Winning an Olympic medal to me is an amazing experience," he said. "Having so much support in the arena was incredible. It felt surreal."

Ohno grew up in suburban Seattle, although he learned to skate as a youngster in the Vancouver area. His hairstylist father, Yuki, raised him alone and spent hours driving his only son back and forth across the border.

"He's really been the backbone of my support group. He knows when I'm up and when I'm down," Ohno said, his father at his side during the phone call. "It's amazing that my dad would make that trek, especially raising a kid like me who had a lot of energy and was out of control a lot of times."

Fittingly, he ended up switching from wheels to blades and joined a sport known for its chaos and unpredictability.

The 1,500 final was a prime example.

The powerful South Koreans got three skaters into the final, and it looked as though they would sweep the medals when all of them shot ahead of Ohno on the final lap.

Ohno nearly crashed when he got tangled up with Sung Si-bak, actually sticking out his right arm to fend off the South Korean and perhaps keep himself upright as he stumbled.

"The Korean (Sung) had put his left hand over and blocked me, and that's how I lost a lot of my speed," he said. "If it wasn't for that, the outcome would've been much different in the race if I hadn't gotten impeded on."

Ohno believes Sung's bump allowed his South Korean teammates who were trailing at the time to catch up with 1 laps left.

On the last lap, Lee was out front and avoided trouble. But Lee Ho-suk cut in on Sung while trying to set up a last-second pass on Lee, and they both slid into the padded barrier, their medal hopes ended in a pileup. Ohno and Celski skated by on their way to medals.

After a training session Sunday, Ohno was to collect his medal during a downtown ceremony.

He wished his Twitter followers a happy Valentine's Day, asking, "Will you be my Olympic Valentine? (circle yes or maybe)."

"I've gotten a lot of maybes and a yes. We're going for all positives here, no negatives," he said, laughing. "The love in the air for me is just being here at the Olympics."