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[SPORTS] Anton Ohno Looks to Repeat Past Success

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  • madchinaman
    One Olympian Hopes a Return to Nothing Will Bring a Return to Glory Kevin Moloney for The New York TimesApolo Anton Ohno, aiming to duplicate his success in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 26, 2005
      One Olympian Hopes a Return to 'Nothing' Will Bring a Return to Glory
      Kevin Moloney for The New York TimesApolo Anton Ohno, aiming to
      duplicate his success in Salt Lake City, still trains in Colorado

      Apolo Anton Ohno plopped himself down at a table and blended
      comfortably into his surroundings, a place so institutional you
      could mistake it for a high school cafeteria, except that detailed
      nutrition labels hang over the food and the tray-wielding customers
      are actually reading the labels.

      For nearly eight years, Ohno has called the Olympic training center
      in Colorado Springs his second home. He sleeps in a small dorm room
      upstairs, the same one he occupied before he became an Olympic icon
      in 2002. Outside the plate-glass windows lies everything a 23-year-
      old short-track speedskating superstar needs, an athletic
      infrastructure at his fingertips.

      "The people who work here in the cafeteria, the people in sports
      medicine, they're like my second family," Ohno said last month,
      punctuating his conversation with swigs from an oversized water
      bottle. "This is like being in my house. I can just come downstairs,
      have some eggs in the morning. It's nice."

      During a quiet spring stretch at the training center, no one looks
      twice at the famous face with the signature soul patch living in
      their midst. Three years ago, after winning gold and silver medals
      in the Salt Lake Olympics, Ohno was vaulted into that rare, and
      fleeting, level of stardom reserved for Olympians with good looks,
      charisma and a great story.

      So he found himself being jetted to Los Angeles for the "Tonight"
      show. He shook hands and posed for pictures at Oscar parties. He
      rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

      For a 19-year-old, that was a bigger test than any of his Olympic
      races. First, he had to decide whether to chase another round of
      glory in 2006, a decision he said took only about a month. Then he
      had to figure out how to stay focused and hungry enough to
      accomplish it.

      "I didn't want to change too many things," he said. "Because this is
      what brought me my success, my hunger, my drive, basically living
      off of nothing, which is what I had here. When you have that kind of
      energy, that kind of drive, that kind of success, there's nothing
      that can stop you.

      "So, it's back here as usual."

      The decision surprised more than a few people, and delighted many,
      including US Speedskating and the United States Olympic Committee,
      which relish his success and star power, especially with another
      Winter Games looming in eight months. Happiest of all might have
      been his father, Yuki Ohno, who reared Apolo by himself in their
      hometown, Seattle, and who once had to persuade his son to pour his
      abundant energy into something positive like skating.

      "The U.S. Olympic complex gives him a sort of shield," Yuki Ohno
      said in a telephone interview. "Him being such a visible individual,
      he could easily be in a disruptive environment. He doesn't have to
      worry about his security and other things. It's very comfortable
      just to be able to go back to your room."

      About the only thing that qualifies as luxurious at the Olympic
      Training Center is Ohno's Lexus, parked in a fenced lot amid a sea
      of Toyotas and Chevys. The training center is an odd mix of old
      military buildings - the U.S.O.C. bought the former Ent Air Force
      Base from the government for a dollar in 1978 - and newer concrete-
      box buildings containing state-of-the-art training and sports-
      medicine facilities.

      Into this architectural mishmash drop many American Olympic
      hopefuls. Most come for short visits, for training camps or for
      activities arranged by their particular sport's governing body. Some
      come to confer with doctors or trainers. Only a handful live here

      Ohno has watched the Olympic seasons ebb and flow in Colorado
      Springs since 1997. He describes how the intensity ratchets up as
      the Games near, something he enjoys even when it is a summer Games
      he has nothing to do with.

      "There's no better sense of energy," he said. "People who are into
      energy should come here. It's almost like heat. Sometimes I go watch
      practices of the other teams just to see the intensity."

      Colorado Springs itself is a sleepy city of 370,000 with little
      nightlife and an altitude of 6,300 feet, a combination that agrees
      with Ohno. He and his coaches said he was probably in the best shape
      of his life. He is coming off a season in which he won the overall
      World Cup title, his first, despite skipping a race in South Korea
      because of death threats.

      In fact, the biggest obstacle to another round of Olympic stardom
      for Ohno may just be the hatred he spawned among the Koreans in 2002.

      That stemmed from Ohno's gold-medal victory in the 1,500 meters,
      awarded to him when officials disqualified the apparent winner, Kim
      Dong Sung of South Korea, saying he had interfered with Ohno. That
      came days after a Chinese skater caused a pileup in the 1,000
      meters, costing Kim another medal, and Ohno had somehow stayed
      upright and flung himself across the finish line for a silver. But
      it was Ohno who drew the Koreans' ire, and he still does.

      Ohno knows that part of the race strategy of the South Korean team
      is to take him out in races if it can, and in the rough-and-tumble
      world of short track, with collisions the norm, that is a constant

      But Ohno said he relished the challenge. He has become known for his
      resilience; opposing skaters call him among the toughest in the
      world to pass.

      "If I'm in a race, I know they're scared, I can feel it," Ohno
      said. "This is why the Koreans team-skate and play these games in
      races. When they race me one on one, I don't think the playing field
      is even."

      Part of what Ohno loves about short track is the thrill, the idea
      that his life's work rides on a metal edge the width of a knife, and
      that he gets one sliver of time every four years - races that last
      mere minutes - to show the world what he can do.

      In 1998, when Ohno was a wild 16-year-old talent, that burden had
      proved too much. He skated a terrible race in the Olympic trials,
      finishing last, and was forced to watch the Nagano Games - in his
      father's native Japan - on television. That experience made his 2002
      success all the more fulfilling, but it also put it in
      perspective. "He has never lost where he came from," Yuki Ohno said.

      So he keeps going home. Cafeteria trays and all.

      Correction: June 22, 2005, Wednesday:

      A sports article yesterday about the short-track speedskater Apolo
      Anton Ohno misstated the significance of the overall World Cup title
      he won this year. It was his third such championship, not his first.
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