Oh yes, says Ohno as Blair's record beaten

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By Sonia Oxley

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Apolo Anton Ohno once featured on South Korean toilet paper but now the short track skater is flush with Olympic medals and a new American record.

With his bronze medal in the 1,000 meters on Saturday, the 27-year-old overtook speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian with seven medals, each of them won sporting a bandana and a goatee beard.

"I have a nice cake and it keeps getting sweeter with more frosting," Ohno told a news conference.

He has a fan club, many of whom dress like him and were at the Pacific Coliseum to witness his latest success in an unpredictable sport where he has become a predictable medal bet.

His two gold, two silvers and three bronzes might never have come about if he had not suffered the painful setback of failing to make the U.S. team for the 1998 Nagano Games when he was the country's number one skater.

"It was a devastating moment for me ... but looking back it was the single greatest thing that ever happened to me," he told a news conference.

"It fueled me to become a better athlete. I look back on those hard times ... that was one of the biggest turning points in my career. I haven't looked back since."

On Saturday, Ohno finished behind two skaters from South Korea, the country which has provided his biggest rivals over the years.

After the American snatched the 1,500 gold medal in 2002 from South Korean Kim Dong-sung, who was disqualified for blocking him, one company in the Asian country started selling toilet paper with Ohno's face printed on it.

Ohno reckons he has skated against four generations of competitors from South Korea and takes pleasure in noting that in competing in three Olympics he has stood the test of time while they have fallen by the wayside.

Team mates credit him with single-handedly raising the profile of their sport by winning reality television show 'Dancing with the Stars' in 2007 as well as medals.

With sponsorship, endorsements and further television offers rolling in, it would have been easy for Ohno to quit his often frustrating sport and follow the path of fame and fortune.

Instead, for the pure love of 'NASCAR on ice', he put on his boots with the 18-inch knives on the bottom and set about cutting down his opponents once again.

One of the main motivations was the fact the Games were being held in Vancouver, the city where he learnt to skate.

"If they were somewhere else I would probably not have gone another four years," he said.

Ohno still has the chance of two more medals here as he will race in the 500 meters, where he is the defending champion, and the 5,000 relay and so was not planning any big celebrations after setting his record.

"I've been celebrating internally my performances here just by me competing," he said.

"I've poured every single thing I have into this sport and these Olympic Games."

(Editing by Miles Evans; To query or comment on this story emailsportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)