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Golden boy goes for two more medals at short track

2/22/2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Apolo Anton Ohno has lived up to the hype.
Now, the teenager has a chance to go down as one of America's
greatest Olympians.

With gold and silver hanging around his neck, Ohno can become
just the second U.S. athlete to win as many as four medals in a
single Winter Games.

He'll take the ice Saturday night for his final short-track
speedskating races: the 500 meters and 5,000-meter relay.

Already, he's turned short track into one of the hottest tickets
in Salt Lake City and mingled with celebrities ranging from
President Bush to Lance Armstrong.

"I'm enjoying it," Ohno said. "But it's hard sometimes.
You've got to stay really focused when you're on top. People are
always shooting at you. It's the hardest place to be. You've got
the bull's-eye on your back."

No matter what happens Saturday, Ohno has provided two of the
signature moments in Salt Lake City: staggering across the line to
win a silver in the 1,000 after a last-lap crash, then winning the
1,500 when a South Korean was disqualified for an illegal block.

From a historical standpoint, Ohno has a chance to go where only
Eric Heiden has gone before. Heiden won five speedskating gold
medals at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

No other American man has won more than three medals in their
Olympic career. On the women's side, Bonnie Blair leads with six
medals over three Olympics, while Cathy Turner and Dianne Holum won
four apiece over two different games.

Ohno insists that he never thinks about winning medals.

"I think that's what makes me a good skater," he said. "I'm
not shooting for No. 1. I'm just trying to give my best and walk
off the ice with no regrets."

Ohno still has six stitches in his left thigh, the result of his
crash on the first night of short track. He admits that he was more
concerned about the injury than he originally let on.

"I couldn't even jog. I was just laying on my bed all day. I
was almost in disbelief," Ohno said. "I didn't even want to look
at my leg."

He wonders if the injury might hinder him in the 500, where he
won't have the luxury of laying back as he did in the 1,500.

"With the stitches, I'm not sure I can get off the line fast
enough," Ohno said. "Hopefully, my body will heal up."

And what about those four medals?

"I'm not even thinking about it," Ohno said. "The 500 is
going to be wild. It's such high speed, only 4½ laps, so many good
guys. Hopefully, I'll just get to the final."

He feels better about his chances in the relay, where he'll join
the same three teammates -- Rusty Smith, Daniel Weinstein and Ron
Biondo -- who captured the world championship last year.

"I think we can get a medal," Ohno said.

After winning his gold Wednesday night, the 19-year-old from
Seattle hardly slept.

"I just wanted to accept and feel the emotions, let them run
through my body," he said.

He's enjoying the Olympic experience, though sometimes it's hard
just getting a bite to eat without being mobbed. The wisp of hair
beneath his bottom lip has even set off a fashion craze at these
Olympics: fake soul patches.

"This whole experience has changed me," Ohno said. "It's
changed me as a person and as a skater."

As for the future, Ohno is certainly young enough to come back
for the 2006 Torino Games, maybe even 2010. He's also looking to
expand his horizons, admitting that the thought of switching to
long track has crossed his mind.

"You never know. Maybe," Ohno said. "But I like racing other
guys."

If nothing else, he's raised the visibility of short track.

"I'm surprised at how fast people are able to pick up what's
going on," he said. "It's fast and furious. I definitely don't
think it's going away."

Neither is Ohno.