Ohno’s 7th medal tops among US Winter Olympians

Apolo Anton Ohno made history the hard way, overcoming a rare

mistake that dropped him to last place before rallying to earn his

record seventh Olympic medal.

Ohno overtook two skaters on the last lap of the 1,500-meter

short track final Saturday night for a bronze, surpassing

long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S.

Winter Olympian.

“I was never looking for that label,” he said. “But I’m not

going to lie. The way you guys say it sounds really, really

nice.”

The 27-year-old skater from Seattle has two gold, two silver and

three bronze medals in three Olympics. Ohno already earned a silver

in the 1,500 last weekend. That tally edges Blair’s five golds and

a bronze in three Olympics from 1988 to 1994.

“I’m very happy for Apolo’s accomplishment,” Blair said in a

statement from Pacific Coliseum, where she was on hand to watch the

race. “It’s a great feat for him, US Speedskating, and the United

States of America.”

Also cheering him on was Michael Phelps, whose eight gold medals

in swimming highlighted the Beijing Games and gave him 14 career

golds.

Ohno, whose medals are the most of any short-track skater, threw

his head back, closed his eyes and let out his breath in relief

after he crossed the finish line, having skated near the back of

the pack early in the nine-lap race. He briefly moved up to second,

then dropped to last after slipping in the turn despite no contact

from the other skaters with three laps remaining, forcing his rally

near the end.

“When I moved up into second place, in my head I thought that

the race was mine and I felt great,” he said. “Then I slipped and

lost all my speed again. I saw everybody flying by me and I’m like,

‘Oh boy, there’s not a lot of time. I’m going to have to kind of

crank it up.”’

Lee Jung-su of South Korea won his second gold in Vancouver and

teammate Lee Ho-suk earned the silver. The Koreans claimed four of

the six short track medals awarded Saturday.

In the women’s 1,500 final, Zhou Yang of China easily won the

gold medal. Lee Eun-byul of South Korea took silver, and teammate

Park Seung-hi earned bronze.

Ohno’s mistake cost him a chance at gold and silver, but he came

flying by Canadian brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin on the

final lap to grab a spot on the podium.

“I had to basically dig deep and find extra speed, extra

strength to be able to pass those two Canadian skaters,” he said.

“To me it shows me that I definitely earned it.”

Ohno was up against the powerful South Koreans and the Canadian

brothers, who led the early laps. Working together, neither duo

gave an inch and Ohno was left scrambling after his slip.

He eased through the quarterfinals and semifinals without any of

the usual calamities that make short track so unpredictable.

The final lacked the drama of Ohno’s first race, the 1,500, in

which he claimed silver and teammate J.R. Celski took bronze after

Koreans Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak crashed in the final turn. Lee

Jung-su won that race, too.

Celski was disqualified for causing Francois Hamelin to crash in

their 1,000 semifinal, and Hamelin was advanced to the final.

On the podium, a smiling Ohno put his right arm around Lee

Jung-su as they posed for photos, no hint of the animosity the

Koreans felt toward Ohno after the 1,500.

Ohno believed there should have been a disqualification after he

and Sung tangled, an insinuation that infuriated Lee Jung-su.

Their dislike for Ohno dates back to the 2002 Salt Lake City

Games, where South Koreans believe Ohno stole the gold from Kim

Dong-sung, who won the 1,500 but was disqualified for blocking.

Ohno threw up his arms as he tried to pass Kim, as though to cry

foul.

“I wouldn’t say that anything that happened in 2002 still

mattered today. That was then and this is now,” Lee Ho-suk said

through a translator. “That’s not any reason for us to defeat

Apolo. We will focus on the present and try to beat Apolo.”

Ohno has two more events – the 500 starting Wednesday and the

5,000 relay – to add more medals to his cache.