Ohno in pursuit of record 7th Olympic medal

Apolo Anton Ohno knows what awaits him as he attempts to careen

into U.S. Olympic history.

“Tomorrow is going to b caaraazzzy! Can u dig it?” the

short-track speedskater tweeted before practice Friday at Pacific

Coliseum.

Ohno resumes his quest for a seventh career Olympic medal in

Saturday’s 1,000 meters. A victory would break his six-medal tie

with long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated

American Winter Olympian.

First, though, Ohno has to get to the final. He’ll have to

survive quarterfinal and semifinal rounds to earn a shot at his

second medal of these games. He already won a silver in the

1,500.

It won’t be easy. Aside from the usual thrills and spills that

make short track so unpredictable, Ohno is facing his biggest

rivals – the powerful South Koreans.

They were on track to sweep the medals in the 1,500 until two of

them crashed in the final turn, allowing Ohno and teammate J.R.

Celski to claim silver and bronze. Lee Jung-su won the gold.

Lee, along with Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak, who both crashed,

are back to challenge Ohno in the 1,000, along with Celski. They

already advanced through the preliminaries.

“The 1,000 is going to be much different and very fast, and

there’s going to be a lot more contact,” Ohno said this week.

He is public enemy No. 1 among short-track fans in South Korea,

where he received death threats in 2003. After he shared the podium

with Lee last weekend, thousands of angry anti-Ohno e-mails shut

down the U.S. Olympic Committee server for nine hours.

Ohno nearly crashed in the 1,500 when he got tangled up with

Sung, actually sticking out his right arm to fend off the South

Korean – and perhaps keep himself upright as he stumbled.

“The Korean had put his left hand over and blocked me, and

that’s how I lost a lot of my speed,” he said earlier. “If it

wasn’t for that, the outcome would’ve been much different in the

race if I hadn’t gotten impeded on.”

Ohno believed Sung’s bump allowed his South Korean teammates who

were trailing at the time to catch up late in the race. He thought

there should’ve been a disqualification.

“Ohno didn’t deserve to stand on the same medal platform as

me,” gold medalist Lee told Yonhap News Agency. “I was so enraged

that it was hard for me to contain myself during the victory

ceremony.”

If the hatred and controversy bothers him, Ohno isn’t letting

on.

“Nothing new-same ol’ obstacles and challenges-I love for

this!!!” he tweeted Friday. He typically doesn’t talk to media the

day before he competes.

Ohno has been the face of his capricious sport since the 2002

Salt Lake City Games, when he won a gold in the 1,500 and a silver

in the 1,000. He single-handedly made short track a nightly

sellout, prompting fans to don fake soul patches and bandanas in

his likeness.

Four years ago in Turin, Ohno added a gold and two bronze medals

to his collection.

His popularity crossed over to the mainstream in 2007, when he

won the mirrorball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Heading into the Olympics, Ohno’s face was plastered on TV and

magazines as a popular product endorser. Winning more medals will

only increase his off-ice options should he decide to retire, as he

has said he might after Vancouver.

Perhaps because these games could be his last, Ohno has appeared

upbeat off the ice and calm on it, yawning frequently as he warms

up before competition.

“I’ve always done that,” he said this week. “My dad calls me

the old lion.”

Ohno’s father, Japan-born Yuki, remains a strong presence in his

only son’s life. Working as a hairstylist, he raised Ohno alone

after the boy’s mother left early on. Not an easy task, either,

with Ohno describing himself as “a kid who had a lot of energy and

was out of control a lot of times.”

Their bond is more friendship than parent-child these days, with

Ohno turning to his father for advice about everything in his life.

They shared a car ride after practice Friday, with Ohno cracking up

seeing his father jamming to Bob Marley.

“He’s really been the backbone of my support group. He knows

when I’m up and when I’m down,” Ohno said this week.

The lure of competing in his third Olympics just a few hours

from his hometown of Seattle kept Ohno training and competing

another four years instead of pursuing his interest in a Hollywood

career.

An up-and-down season last year and the increased speed of other

skaters prompted Ohno to remake himself. He’s noticeably lighter

and leaner – gone is the pudginess that once earned him the

nickname “Chunkie.” He said his body fat is a scant 2.8

percent.

Ohno’s skating style hasn’t changed much. He often lags the pack

during the early laps before slipping through with a smooth inside

move or circling multiple skaters on the outside of the tight turns

and short straightaways.

The 27-year-old skater has two medals of each color, having

surpassed Eric Heiden as the most decorated American male at the

Winter Games. He’s also earned the most short-track medals since

the sport joined the Olympics in 1992.

Blair is sanguine about giving up her record to Ohno.

“When I do see him, I’m definitely going to congratulate him,”

she said earlier this week. “It’s awesome for him, and it’s

awesome for the sport.”