Apolo Ohno seeking historic medals in Vancouver

BY foxsports • November 7, 2009

Apolo Anton Ohno's heart and mind are squarely focused on spinning his high-speed magic around the short track rink at the Vancouver Games. Nearly eight years after his Olympic debut, the five-time medalist remains the enduring face of his wild and wooly sport and one of the world's best skaters. "I'm an old man at 27. Sometimes I feel like that," Ohno said, his signature bandanna holding his dark hair out of his brown eyes. "I love what I do, I love competition, I love training. The losses, the wins, the struggles, I love. I'm blessed to be able to use this gift. I still feel like I'm one of the best, and on any given day I can still vie for being on top of the podium." He'll get that chance in February when he competes in his third Olympics, about three hours from his hometown of Seattle, an incentive that kept him on the ice. "Having them in my backyard is unbelievable," he said. After Vancouver, though, his future in the sport is open to debate. His father, Yuki, says his son will retire; coach Jimmy Jang is pushing for him to push on to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And Ohno? "I'm a Gemini by nature, so I'm pretty diverse in what path I can take," he said. "I love the sport dearly, but there's so many other things I want to do." His possibilities seem endless, among them acting in movies, launching a couple of businesses, doing TV commentary. Winning the mirror-ball trophy on the ABC show "Dancing With the Stars" in 2007 gave him the opening into Hollywood that he had been seeking. The exposure increased Ohno's fan base to include non-sports fans and sent the Internet buzzing about his dating life. He is represented by a powerful Hollywood agency. Ohno says he was offered the main lead in a movie but turned down it down because of conflicts with his training. When he's not training or competing, Ohno is busy working on a line of nutritional supplements targeted at regular folks that is set to launch around the Olympics. Another venture involves a fee-based membership discount card for use at thousands of retailers nationwide, with Ohno as its public face. After the 2006 Turin Games, Ohno traded his monastic existence at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for Salt Lake City where he trains with the national team. He lives in his own house, and cooks, cleans and does his laundry. Yuki, the man he affectionately refers to as "Big Poppa" on his Twitter feed, is a frequent visitor. Father and son share a bond forged after Ohno's mother left when he was a small child. It has deepened into a friendship through the years. "He's the biggest support I've ever received in my life," the younger Ohno said. "My dad is my best friend. I talk to him every day. I can't imagine what life would be like without him." Yuki, who still has his hair salon in Seattle, remarried three years ago; Ohno said his singular focus on the Olympics precludes having a girlfriend. "I learn so much from him, and I get so much energy from him," Yuki said. "I can always bring perspective to what he's facing. We can talk about fear, doubt and confusion." Ohno experienced all those things during a rocky short track season last year. Plagued by equipment problems and pressured by fast, younger skaters who knew his racing strategy, he was inconsistent. "The last couple years I haven't been able to find my mojo," he said. "It's an inner feeling only the athlete knows." Today, Ohno is lighter and leaner, though rivals are as much as 30 pounds lighter and everyone skates fast, making short track all about who doesn't goof up in the tight turns and short straightaways. "Ohno can skate on the worst possible ice and be flawless," teammate Ryan Bedford said. "Mentally, he's really strong, but he's got more experience than any skater in the world." Jang, who has spent eight years working with Ohno, sees a difference in the skater who is more friend than pupil. "Now he's only worried about himself and his goals. He believes in himself now. Everything is strong now, not any mistakes," Jang said. "He's very consistent with his technique, confidence, health, speed and power. He is better now than in 2002." That's when Ohno became a breakout star during the Salt Lake City Games, winning a gold in the 1,500 meters and a silver in the 1,000. He single-handedly made his sport a nightly sellout, capturing the world's imagination and prompting fans to don fake soul patches and bandannas. In Turin, Ohno added a gold and two bronze medals to his collection, tying him with long-track speedskater Eric Heiden for most medals won at the Winter Olympics behind speedskater Bonnie Blair with six. Of course, Heiden's haul came in a single Olympics, in 1980 at Lake Placid. Ohno can tie or claim the mark for himself in February. "It definitely sends chills down my spine," he said. --- On the Net: www.apoloantonohno.com