Few thrills, no spills, just a slip in the corner that nearly cost Apolo Anton Ohno a place in history.
Ohno’s own mistake dropped him to last place with three laps remaining in the short track 1,000-meter final Saturday night, trailing the South Koreans and two Canadian brothers.
With the gold and silver out of reach, Ohno scooted furiously past Charles and Francois Hamelin to earn a bronze, making him the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian with seven career medals.
“I really had to fight,” he said. “I can’t wait to watch the tape and see how I came back from last place to win bronze.”
Lee Jung-su of South Korea won his second gold in Vancouver and teammate Lee Ho-suk earned the silver. The Koreans claimed four of the six short track medals awarded.
“Once I advanced to the front, all I could think of was just staying there,” Lee Jung-su said through a translator.
Ohno’s seventh medal broke a tie with long-track speedskater Bonnie Blair. He now has two gold, two silver and three bronze medals in his three Olympic appearances. The skater from Seattle already earned a silver in the 1,500 last weekend.
“I’m very happy for Apolo’s accomplishment,” Blair said in a statement from Pacific Coliseum, where she was on hand to watch the race.
“It’s a great feat for him, US Speedskating, and the United States of America. We hope that more kids will see his accomplishments and want to try our great sport that has been so good to us and taught us so much about what it takes to be successful in life.”
Also attending was the star of the Beijing Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a total of 14 gold medals over two Summer Games.
Ohno wasn’t quite ready to brand himself the most decorated American in Winter Games history.
“In my mind, that’s a hard question. How do you answer that? I don’t put labels on myself,” he said. “I consider myself an athlete on my third Olympic Games, working my heart out. My goal was to come out and put my heart and soul into the Olympic Games and I’ve done that.”
Ohno, whose medals are the most of any short track skater, appeared relieved as he crossed the finish line, having skated near the back of the pack early in the nine-lap race. He briefly moved up to second, then dropped to last after slipping in the turn despite no contact from the other skaters, forcing his rally near the end.
“When I moved up into second place, in my head I thought that the race was mine and I felt great,” he said. “Then I slipped and lost all my speed again. I saw everybody flying by me and I’m like, ‘Oh boy, there’s not a lot of time. I’m going to have to kind of crank it up.”’
Ohno was up against the powerful South Koreans and the Canadian brothers, who led the early laps. Working together, neither duo gave an inch and Ohno was left to rely on his experience to force his way onto the podium in the last lap.
Ohno grabbed an American flag and skated around, then patted his longtime South Korean rivals on their shoulders.
He has two more events—the 500 and 5,000 relay—to add more medals to his cache.
The 1,000 lacked the drama of Ohno’s first race, the 1,500, in which he claimed silver and teammate J.R. Celski took bronze after Koreans Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak crashed in the final turn. Lee Jung-su won that race, too.
On the podium, a smiling Ohno put his right arm around Lee Jung-su as they posed for photos, no hint of the animosity the Koreans felt toward Ohno after the 1,500.
Ohno believed there should have been a disqualification after he and Sung tangled, an insinuation that infuriated Lee Jung-su.
Their dislike for Ohno dates back to the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where South Koreans believe Ohno stole the gold from Kim Dong-sung, who won the 1,500 but was disqualified for blocking. Ohno threw up his arms as he tried to pass Kim, as though to cry foul.
“I wouldn’t say that anything that happened in 2002 still mattered today. That was then and this is now,” Lee Ho-suk said through a translator. “That’s not any reason for us to defeat Apolo. We will focus on the present and try to beat Apolo.”
Ohno made it safely through the quarterfinals and semifinals without any drama. Francois Hamelin advanced to the final after Celski was disqualified for causing Hamelin to crash in their heat.
“I made a risky pass and I got called for it,” Celski said.
Ohno clearly had the crowd support, with fans holding up red-white-and-blue signs reading, “U.S.A.4A.A.O” and “Oh No.”
Sung won the consolation final.
In the women’s 1,500 final, Zhou Yang of China easily won the gold medal.
Zhou breezed to the finish line well ahead of Lee Eun-byul of South Korea, who earned the silver. Park Seung-hi of South Korea took the bronze.
American Katherine Reutter was fourth.
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