Apolo Ohno’s Golden Years

Having made all of his skating dreams come true by the age of 24, Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno ponders what to do with the rest of his life

Friday - July 28, 2006
By Chad Pata
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Apolo Ohno's Golden Years

When you’ve accomplished your life’s dreams at the tender age of 24, where do you go from there?

Such are the questions facing Olympic short track skating superstar Apolo Anton Ohno coming off a second successful Winter Olympics where he took home three medals, including a gold at 500 meters. This gave him five medals for his career, tying him for the most medals ever by an American in the Winter Games - and leaving him with lots of questions for the future.

“Being only 24, I have accomplished every single thing that I could want to accomplish in the sport,” says Ohno, who is hapa-haole and was raised by his Japanese father Yuki.

“Obviously, within the sport, I have the opportunity to make my third Olympics team, that is always going on in the back of my head. So now I have to figure out: Do I want to keep skating or do I want to accomplish other things outside of the sport?”

Before he can move on to other things, he has one more award to receive for his skating, as he is being honored this weekend in the 40th annual Victor Awards being filmed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The Victors is the longest running televised sports award show and features athletes from all four major American sports as well as the Olympics. This year it will be featuring such stars as Muhammad Ali and Willie Mays to go along with several Olympic standouts.

While this may mark the end of his career, it has been one that has brought short track speed skating from the anonymity of sports such as the biathlon to the spotlight usually afforded to skiing, figure skating and hockey.

Although he is not training now, Ohno’s competitive nature and love for his sport may draw him back to the ice
Although he is not training now, Ohno’s competitive
nature and love for his sport may draw him back to the

At the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, he became the central figure of the American team, not only as a gold medal contender but with his marketable good looks and the soul patch on his chin that had women swooning. The drama that unfolded did not disappoint the legions of new viewers. In a sport that pundits compare to roller derby - and its star Ohno refers to as “NASCAR with

human propulsion” - contact is inevitable. It was involved in both of Ohno’s gold medal races.

In his first race, 1,000 meters, he led the entire way until a four-skater pile-up on the final lap left him limping in for a silver medal. But it was the 1,500 meters that made him so famous on this side of the pond, and so infamous in South Korea.

Ohno was awarded the gold after Korean skater Kim Dong Sung was disqualified for interfering with Ohno. The bumping by Sung seemed slight, and it enraged South Koreans so much that they actually crashed the USOC Internet server with more than 16,000 angry e-mails.

The hate letters and death threats that followed led Ohno to skip the World Cup event in South Korea in 2003. He returned in 2005 and now says that the controversy that brought so much attention to his sport is behind him.

“Oh yeah, I think so, it was mostly just media hype and a lot of it was political, using me as anti-American sentiment,” says Ohno. “My relationship with the skaters has always been pretty good.

We’re competitors, trying to be the best we can be, so obviously there is going to be a lot of tension there. But off the ice, there’s nothing there, absolutely not.

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