Ohno turns toward US medal mantle

By Beth Harris
Associated Press / February 20, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Apolo Anton Ohno knows what awaits him as he attempts to careen into US Olympic history.

“Tomorrow is going to b caaraazzzy! Can u dig it?’’ the short-track speedskater tweeted before practice yesterday at Pacific Coliseum.

Ohno resumes his quest for a seventh career Olympic medal in today’s 1,000-meter competition. A victory would break his six-medal tie with long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated American Winter Olympian.

First, though, Ohno will 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 US 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.’’

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. Four years ago in Turin, Ohno added a gold and two bronze medals to his collection.

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 this week. “It’s awesome for him, and it’s awesome for the sport.’’