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Ohno fastest at national short track championships

12/13/2005

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Apolo Anton Ohno was a bit nervous about
the make-or-break nature of the U.S. short track championships.

Not to worry.

Scooting around an indoor hockey rink in Michigan's frigid Upper
Peninsula, his famous soul patch nearly scraping the ice, Ohno
was the fastest skater in both time trials in the national
championships Monday night, the first step toward making the
American Olympic team.

Ohno clocked a nine-lap time of 1 minute, 25.114 seconds, nearly
lapping the skater he was paired with and putting him more than 2
seconds ahead of the next-fastest finisher. He returned in the
evening to break his own U.S. record in the four-lap trial at
37.156.

"You've got to be consistent and safe," Ohno said. "My goal
is to qualify for every single event in the Games. If I do that,
I'll be happy."

The real racing begins Tuesday night, with the top 16 men and
women moving on to three days of precarious, head-to-head heats
that will determine the U.S. team for Turin.

Shani Davis -- next to Ohno, the most compelling storyline in
these championships -- got off to a disappointing start in his bid
for a historic double. He wants to be the first American to skate
on both the long and short track teams in the same Olympics.

Davis was seventh in the nine-lap trial and eighth in the
four-lapper, giving him only 1.5 points on Day 1. That left him
seventh in the overall standings, with a couple of skaters to
overtake if he's going the make the five-man Olympic team.

Davis stormed past reporters after both races, saying he
wouldn't talk with the media until Friday -- the final day of the
meet.

"He's a little upset," said Davis' coach, Bob Fenn.

On the women's side, rising star Kim Hyo-jung duplicated Ohno by
taking first in both time trials.

The 17-year-old Kim, a native of short track hotbed South Korea
who now lives in Southern California, won the four-lap trial in
40.429 and the nine-lapper in 1:32.155 -- both American records.
Allison Baver was second in both events.

"She has set the bar," said Derrick Campbell, managing
director of the U.S. short track program. "She has improved so
much with her racing skills and where to be."

The idea of Ohno not being at the Olympics seems rather
farfetched after his breakthrough performance at the 2002 Games.

The swath of hair beneath his lower lip spawned a fashion craze
in Salt Lake City -- especially after he won gold and silver medals
in dramatic fashion. He still has the flowing brown locks, which
elicit squeals from his young female fans and are held in place
with a variety of exotic bandannas.

Several Olympic sports, including speedskating's long-track
cousin, have revised the way their teams are picked so that a wider
range of performances factor into the decision.

Not short track, which uses its four-day national championships
to decide the team. Given the random nature of the sport, which
features plenty of falls and frequent disqualifications, no one can
take an Olympic spot for granted.

Ohno admitted to being somewhat jittery about the process.

"Sure, a little bit," he said. "Anything can happen. You've
just got to be ready for it."

While saying he was a bit disappointed with his nine-lap
performance, Ohno breezed to victory in both time trials to earn
the maximum 34 points on the first day.

Alex Izykowski and 2002 Olympian J.P Kepka were tied for second
with 14.5 points, followed by two-time Olympian Rusty Smith with
13.
Farther back was Davis, already assured of an Olympic spot in
traditional speedskating but more of a long shot in short track. At
6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he hardly has the prototype build for the
tight turns and frequent passing.

Ohno, for instance, is just 5-8 -- barely coming to Davis'
shoulders when the close friends stand side by side. Shorter
skaters can get lower to the ice and pass more easily in the tight
confines of the 200-foot-long rink.

Davis was nearly 3½ seconds behind Ohno in the nine-lap trial
and almost 1{ seconds off the winner's pace over four laps. In the
point standings, he's also trailing Anthony Lobello (5) and Travis
Jayner (3).

Kim has the 34-point maximum, followed by Baver with 21. Derrick
Kimberly (13) was the only other female skater in double figures.

Amy Peterson, coming out of retirement at 34 in an attempt to
make her sixth Olympic team, got off to a sluggish start. She was
10th-fastest in the nine-lap trial, but improved to fifth in the
four-lap run.

"Hopefully I'll get better as the days go on," said Peterson,
who was seventh in the overall standings with 2.5 points.