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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics: Better than ever Ohno chases Olympic history

AP National Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Apolo Anton Ohno hardly seems burdened by the weight of Olympic history.

As he circled the track time and time again at Pacific Coliseum on Friday, he couldn’t seem to stop yawning. Even as he prepared to practice the harrowing relay exchange — which looks something akin to the finish of a stock car race, complete chaos with all sorts of bumping and drafting — Ohno’s mouth was agape for several seconds, as if he could barely stay awake.
Then, suddenly, he swerved onto the track, pushed off on those short, powerful legs and — whoosh! — he was gone.
Next stop, the record book.
When short track begins Saturday night, Ohno will try to become the most decorated Olympic skater in the history of this thrilling, high-speed sport. He already has five medals from Salt Lake City and Turin — no one has ever won six.
That’s not all. Ohno also will be trying to tie the mark for the most medals ever by a U.S. Winter Olympian, and he’ll have four chances in the next 2› weeks to zip right on by Bonnie Blair, who won five golds and a bronze over her three Olympics.
Ohno has two golds, a silver and two bronze medals.
“I am ready. No regrets, no fears, no hesitation,” he tweeted after the hourlong workout, his final prep for the 1,500 meters. “Enjoying every minute. I’ll give my all for USA. And smile every step of the way.”
He flashed a smile for reporters Friday but didn’t take time to stop. He’s got his game face on now, and he hopes his next comments to the media will come with another gold medal hanging from his neck.
“Apolo is such a great example for everyone, whether you’re an athlete or a student or a businessman because he just has this amazing drive,” teammate Katherine Reutter said. “He will not give up. He will do everything to his best and his fullest. That’s why he’s a champion. Whether he gets one more medal or not — and I think he will — he’ll always be a champion and a legend in our sport.”
While the 27-year-old Ohno is the oldest member of the U.S. short track team and finds himself competing against teenagers, he’s still on top of his game. He’s a medal contender in all four events, ready to go up against stiff competition from Canada’s Charles Hamelin and the powerful South Korean team.
“This year, he’s way better than any other year,” said U.S. national coach Jimmy Jang, a close friend of Ohno off the ice. “His condition is perfect now.”
Not that he’s the same skater. After the Turin Games, Ohno took some time off — including a winning stint on “Dancing With The Stars” — then set out to completely alter his style of skating with help from Jang. It was difficult to pull off, persuading the body to do things it wasn’t accustomed to doing, but Jang said it was a necessary step to keep up with mostly younger skaters.
Whereas Ohno may not have the power to simply blow by someone on the final turn, he’s much more aware of positioning, angles and setting up his opponents for the pass.
“We changed everything for technique and body weight,” Jang said. “He was a power skater before. Now he’s a technical skater. Totally different.”
While Ohno jokingly calls himself “Grandpa” and seems not to have a care in the world, no one works harder or gets more out of his talent.
“I think he’s just smarter,” Reutter said. “I know this World Cup season, he had really hard training all the way through. But you can see it in practice. He’s going faster, he’s going longer. All the training and work is really paying off. Maybe what he’s lost in age he’s gained in wisdom and strength and strategy.”
Even though the Americans are counting on one of their deepest teams in years to keep up with the Koreans, Chinese and Canadians, there’s little doubt who stands apart — and not just because he’s the only member of the U.S. team wearing a red helmet.
“He’s always been the leader,” said up-and-comer J.R. Celski, who’s only 19. “He’s been the big dog, the face of short track.”
Ohno hasn’t lost any of his drive, either. A few months ago, when he felt Jang’s focus was lagging a bit, he emailed the coach a picture of them hugging after Ohno won gold in the 500 at the Turin Games.
“You need to wake up again,” Ohno quipped. “We need another gold.”
While he’s indicated this will be his final Olympics, Jang sees no reason for Ohno to hang up his 18-inch blades.
“I told him, ’We need one more Olympics,”’ Jang said.
Now, if he can just stop yawning.
“Isn’t that funny?” Reutter said. “I’ve asked him about it and he says he doesn’t even know he does it. Hey, if that’s what gets him ready to go, more power to him.”