Published February 23, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Apolo Anton Ohno sits on the blue linoleum floor of the rink manager's office, just off the practice ice, and contorts himself into various stretching positions while mulling his legacy as America's most decorated Winter Olympian.
He won medals in his first two short-track speedskating events at the Vancouver Games and has two more chances to add to his record total of seven.
"It's hard for me to judge myself," Ohno said, speaking from a crouch on the floor. "It's kind of hard to say, 'Oh, this guy is the greatest.' I just do what I do."
Few have done it better than the 27-year-old skater who hung around for a third Olympics because they were about three hours from his hometown of Seattle.
"I've always, in the back of my head, wanted to be known as one of the greatest short track speedskaters of all time," he told The Associated Press on Monday.
His medal collection features two gold, two silver and three bronze. His body carries the wear and tear from years of careening around a hockey-sized rink at top speed, knowing a crash or disqualification can come at any second.
"I love it that I've been here this long and I'm still very competitive," he said, stretching his right leg so that it nearly reached his neck. "I take a lot of pride in that because our sport has such a high turnover."
Ohno had just wrapped up practice at a community rink in a lower middle-class section of Vancouver, working with coaches he once competed against. "I beat all those guys," he said, smiling.
So far at these games, Ohno has a silver in the 1,500 and a bronze in the 1,000, and passed long-track speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.
Blair won six medals (four gold) and Heiden five (all gold). Some critics wonder how Ohno can be considered as good or better than two skaters who won more gold in a form of speedskating that existed long before short track made its Olympic debut in 1992.
"Anyone who sees our sport can respect the fact that if you win one medal it means a lot," he said. "If I had seven golds, I'm sure there would be critics as well. I don't compete for that, so it doesn't really bother me at all."
Ohno nearly missed out on collecting his seventh medal last weekend. He slipped in a turn with two laps to go in the 1,000, dropping him from second to last against the powerful South Koreans.
Ohno regrouped and zipped past Canadian brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin to earn a spot on the podium.
"Hopefully kids who watch can take a lesson from that," he said. "That's the reason why you should never give up."
Ohno initially believed he'd caused himself to slip. Later, he watched a replay that showed one of the Hamelin brothers coming up behind him, putting a hand on Ohno's hip and pushing.
"Originally, I thought it was my mistake, so now I feel even better," he said. "If I didn't have that slip, I have 100 percent confidence the race would've been mine. The same thing about the 1,500, if the Korean hadn't grabbed my leg and held me there, I think the same thing."
Ohno goes for an eighth medal when short track resumes Wednesday night with preliminaries in the men's 500 meters. The final is Friday night, when Ohno also will anchor the U.S. team in the 5,000 relay against South Korea, Canada, China and France.
"It's going to be insane, a little scary," he said about the 45-lap relay. "There's going to be no giveaways in the final. We have to be on point. It's going to be fun, though."
Fun is not something Ohno had too much of in the months leading up to these games.
He hired his strength and conditioning coach John Schaeffer to move into his Salt Lake City home and run his monastic life like a boxer's training camp.
"I said, 'If this is the last hurrah, I want to make sure I have no regrets and there's nothing else I could have done,'" Ohno said.
Eating mostly fish and vegetables and running 10 miles daily, Ohno, who stands 5-foot-8, slimmed down to 142 pounds. That's 25 pounds lighter than he was at his first Olympics in 2002 and well under his natural weight of 165. His body fat dropped to an enviable 2 percent.
"I put him through stuff he's never been through before," said Schaeffer, who also trains NFL players and MMA fighters through his Reading, Pa.-based Winning Factor. "He's stronger now than he has been. He's about as gifted an athlete as I've ever worked with. I love to see Apolo try long track."
Ohno needed to remake himself to keep up with his younger competitors, who weigh 120-130 pounds and now skate just as fast as he does.
His daily regimen included watching videos of races for an hour, no phone calls after 6 p.m., no computer use past 7 p.m., meditating for an hour, an hour-long massage and lights out by 9 p.m.
"Right now my body feels so absolutely, unbelievably well," he said. "I wish I felt this good 10 years ago. If I'd known this before 2002, it would have been lights out."
Ohno's coach and friend Jimmy Jang is already laying the groundwork with the rest of the skater's team to bring him back for the 2014 Sochi Games.
"If he's not lost his confidence, he will come back. No problem," Jang said.
The only thing Ohno knows for sure is that he plans a long break after Vancouver. He wants to pursue his interest in acting, along with business opportunities that include a fledgling nutritional supplement company.
"I haven't ruled anything out," he said. "One thing is for certain, I'll always be involved in the Olympic Games. I love it too much."
Ohno figures it may be years before he can truly appreciate his place in Olympic history.
"If I take a vacation up here or Salt Lake or Torino, I can say, 'Oh yeah, Daddy skated here, won some medals,'" he said, smiling. "It would be kind of cool to say."