Ohno skates away with spot on Olympic team

Updated: December 16, 2005, 10:33 AM ET
Associated Press

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Apolo Anton Ohno glanced over his shoulder -- no one was close -- and gave a quick pump of the fist as he coasted across the finish line.

Next stop, Turin.

Ohno, one of the most dynamic athletes of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, earned his second straight trip to the Olympics with another dominant performance at the U.S. short track championships Thursday night.

"I'm happy now," said Ohno, who won the 1,000 and 1,500 meters, both in commanding fashion. "This is a stressful event. Guys are doing some crazy stuff out there."

As for Shani Davis, he might have to go solo in Turin.

Trying to become the first American to make both speedskating teams for the same Olympics, Davis failed to make either final on the next-to-last night -- a major blow to his hopes of pulling off the historic double.

"I've just got to go skate and be able to find that extra strength within to go out there and pull off the impossible," said Davis, who has qualified for the U.S. long track team. "It's possible."

Ohno makes anything seem possible.

Wearing a glittery, light-blue bandanna under his helmet and still sporting that trademark "soul patch" below his lower lip, he darted to the lead in the 1,500 with two laps to go and breezed to victory when J.P. Kepka tumbled to the ice and took out Alex Izykowski.

Ohno had a similarly impressive performance in the 1,000, finishing at least 20 feet ahead of his closest competitor in a random, high-speed sport that often is decided by a matter of inches.

Now, with five wins in six events at the national championships, Ohno will head to Italy as one of the most high-profile athletes on a U.S. team that hopes to build on its record medal haul from Salt Lake City. He is assured of racing the Olympic 1,500; he'll try to lock up spots in the 500 and 1,000 on Friday.

"You've got to go in with the same attitude -- just got to be hungry, just got to be consistent," Ohno said. "I'm just trying to stay out of trouble."

Ohno's girlfriend, Allison Baver, was one of two women who clinched Olympic spots on the penultimate day of the championships. Kim Hyo-jung, 17, is the women's leader, though she failed to win either race Thursday after going 4-for-4 on the first two days of the meet.

Davis was eliminated in the semifinals of the 1,000 and edged out for a spot in the 1,500 final. With two events left, the 23-year-old native of Chicago will have to pass five skaters on the final night at Northern Michigan University to make the short track team.

He already sounded as though he's preparing himself to come up short.

"We'll go out there and try to get as many points as possible and if those guys are better than me, I tip my hat to them because I absolutely tried my best," said Davis, one of the few black athletes competing in a winter sport. "Next time, I'll try to do things differently beforehand so I'm more prepared for a competition like that. The caliber of skaters that are out here, I'll be more prepared next time.

"When's next time?" he added. "I don't know."

Davis was fortunate to escape the opening round of heats in the 1,000, advancing only because Misi Toth fell on the final turn when he appeared to have second place locked up. Toth slammed into the boards while Davis skated across the line as the lucky runner-up -- good enough for a spot in the semifinals. But he wasn't much of a factor racing against Ohno and two other former Olympians, Rusty Smith and Kepka.

In the 1,500, Davis was knocked out in the 1,500 while skating in a semifinal heat with Ohno and Kepka.

Ohno was out front when Kepka surged past Davis for second place and held him off on the final turn. Davis' coach, Bob Fenn, dropped his head as he watched his skater settle for third, bumping him from the "A" final.

Ohno has piled up 157 points, giving him a commanding 103½-point advantage over Izykowski. The top five in the overall standings make the Olympic team, with Smith, Anthony Lobello and Kepka holding the next three spots.

As for Davis, he has 11½ points -- 26½ behind Kepka in the all-important fifth position. A win is worth 34 points, but Davis has yet to make an "A" final in the first four races of the meet.

Davis didn't qualify for the U.S. World Cup short track team, spending most of the fall locking up enough points to qualify for the Olympic long track squad. He is a world record holder on the big oval and will be a leading medal contender in Turin.

On the women's side, Kimberly Derrick won the 1,000 and Maria Garcia pulled off a surprising victory in the 1,500. With Kim and Baver battling up front, Garcia dipped past them both on the next-to-last straightaway and protected the lead coming off the final turn.

Kim leads with 136 points and Baver is second with 97. Derrick (69) and Garcia (44) made the biggest moves of the night, greatly enhancing their chances to make the team. Caroline Hallisey holds the fifth spot with 29½ points.

"I'm kind of an underdog because I've only been on ice three years," said Derrick, a former inline skater.

Amy Peterson will have to make up ground on the final night to earn a spot on her sixth Olympic team. The 34-year-old skater, who came out of retirement in April, is seventh with 12½ points.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press