[SPORTS] Anton Ohno Looks to Repeat Past Success
- 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
By LYNN ZINSER
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
"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-
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
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.