Friday, February 22, 2002
Golden boy goes for two more medals at short track
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.