By Sonia Oxley
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Apolo Anton Ohno will "let the beast loose" on Saturday in the short track speedskating jungle of disqualifications, crashes and chaos when he launches his bid to become the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian.
The 27-year-old, who has won five Olympic medals in two Games, can surpass speed skater Bonnie Blair's American record with two more medals in Vancouver. The first metalware up for grabs is in the 1,500 metres on Saturday.
"I feel in awe, very humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence (as Blair)," Ohno told reporters.
"I'm very optimistic, I have a killer instinct inside but I try to just hold back til Saturday and let the beast loose and see where I end up."
The 1,500 is the only men's event where skaters have to negotiate their way through the heats, semi-finals and final on the same day and the main challenge is avoiding pile-ups while jostling for position.
Posing one of the stiffest challenges to bandana-clad Ohno is South Korean Lee Ho-suk, the 2006 silver medallist at 1,500 and overall world champion. Charles Hamelin gets the chance for one of the first Canadian medals on home ice but probably has a better chance in the shorter distances later in the Games.
The women are also in action on Saturday with the 500 metres heats and 3,000 relay semi-finals.
China's Wang Meng is the one to beat, with her rivals in awe of her supremacy since the last Olympics. Since winning the 500 gold in 2006, she has been overall world champion twice.
"(Wang) has been outstanding for five years now and unless she makes a mistake you would expect her to win the gold but then she has all that pressure on her and she is going in with a lot to lose," British skater Sarah Lindsay said.
(Editing by Miles Evans)