Ohno ties Blair for most American Winter Games medals

Short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno pulled out a silver in

the 1,500-meter final to tie Bonnie Blair for most medals won by a

U.S. Winter Olympian.

Ohno, who now has two medals of each color, moved past Eric

Heiden as the most decorated American male at the Winter Games and

also claimed the mark for most short track medals since the

wild-and-wooly sport joined the Olympic program in 1992.

Boxed out by the South Koreans, with all hope of a medal

appearing lost, Ohno could only count on the freakishness of short

track to pull it out.

When two skaters ahead of him went sliding into the padding,

Ohno stuck his skate across the line and Olympic medal No. 6 was

his.

The American who made the soul patch fashionable — even

the women were wearin’ em — took the silver when two South

Koreans took each other out on the final turn.

Korea still got the gold, which went to Lee Jung-su, out front

and out of the trouble that gobbled up his teammates. But Ohno had

no complaints about being the runner-up, especially when he was

fourth with just a few meters to go. It didn’t hurt to see

19-year-old American teammate J.R. Celski right behind, taking

bronze in his first major event since a gruesome crash at the U.S.

trials.

“That last two laps was pretty intense. There was a lot of

bumping, a lot of contact,” Ohno said. “This is what this sport is

all about.”

Heiden, now the team doctor for U.S. Speedskating,

told The Associated Press he was “glued to the television” while

working in the training room at the Olympic Village.

“The thing that really sets him apart is he’s been doing this

for a number of years,” Heiden said when reached on his cell phone.

“We’ve learned to appreciate what dedication and hard work he’s had

to put in. He’s a product of both those things.”

Ohno grabbed an American flag, though he had to put it under one

arm when he held up his fingers for the crowd — all five on

the left hand and another on the right.

Make it six, and he has three more events at the Vancouver Games

to pass Blair.

“I’ve come prepared, more than I’ve ever prepared for anything

in my life,” Ohno said. “I’m in a very, very good place. Obviously,

I know I have six medals now and I have no regrets about this

entire Olympic Games experience. This is going to stay with me for

the rest of my life.”

Ohno eliminated Canadian favorite Charles Hamelin in the

semifinals with a daring inside move, drawing groans from many of

the red-clad fans in the packed house of 14,200 at Pacific

Coliseum. But there was still plenty of red-white-and-blue cheering

for the 27-year-old American, who is practically a hometown

favorite at these games.

Vancouver is just a three-hour drive north of suburban Seattle,

where Ohno was born and raised by a single father, getting his

start in skating with wheels under his feet rather than blades.

“I just feel so blessed to be here, healthy, competing,” he

said. “It feels like home soil to me. We just have so much support

in the crowd.”

When he saw Olympic short track for the first time on TV, Ohno

decided that’s what he wanted to do. Clearly, the ice suited him

just fine.

No sport is more unpredictable than short track, either.

Ohno won his first medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games when a

crash on the final turn took out every skater but one, Australia’s

Steven Bradbury, who coasted across the line as perhaps the

flukiest gold medalist ever. Ohno, his leg gashed by a skate blade,

crawled across the line for a silver.

Talk about symmetry.

Ohno’s sixth medal was claimed under similar circumstances,

though this time he didn’t have to spill any blood. The powerful

South Koreans put three skaters in the final, and it looked as

though they would sweep the medals when all of them shot ahead of

Ohno on the final lap.

“Myself and everybody here thought it was finished and done

with,” Heiden said. “Typical short track. It’s never over ’til it’s

over. It’s sort of deja vu with what happened in Salt Lake City

with Bradbury.”

Ohno nearly crashed when he got tangled up with Sung Si-bak,

actually sticking out his right arm to fend off the South Korean

— and perhaps keep himself up as he stumbled. Once Ohno

regained his balance, it looked as though the Koreans were

gone.

Then came the final turn.

Lee was out front and avoided trouble. But Lee Ho-suk cut in on

Sung while trying to set up a last-second pass on Lee, and they

both slid into the padded barrier, their medal hopes dashed in a

heap. Ohno skated right on by, as did Celski.

Heiden didn’t feel too bad about giving up his record. His five

medals were nothing but gold, all won in a sweep of the long-track

events at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

“I’ve never thought of it as a contest,” Heiden said. “I just

look at Apolo as a great skater, and also a good friend, someone

I’ve been able to spend some time with. I’m very happy with what

he’s done.”

Heiden skated short track before it was an Olympic sport.

He gave it up after breaking his left leg in a crash when he was

14.

“That was it,” Heiden said, chuckling. “I told myself, ‘That’s

enough of this stuff.'”

Ohno kept right on going.

Right on past Heiden, it turned out.