Federal Way's Ohno becomes most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian

Apolo Ohno - Black Press
Apolo Ohno
— image credit: Black Press

Last time anybody moved this fast at the Pacific Coliseum was 15 years ago when Pavel (The Russian Rocket) Bure of the Vancouver Canucks dazzled National Hockey League fans with electrifying rushes.

Jung-Su Lee of Korea was the Renfrew Street Rocket Saturday night, setting an Olympic record in one minute, 23.747 seconds while claiming gold in a drama-jammed men’s 1,000-meter short track speed skating final before 11,077 delirious fans.

Ho-Suk Lee of Korea was right on Jung-Su’s heels for the silver medal, while Seattle/Federal Way superstar Apolo Anton Ohno settled for bronze in 1:24.128, his seventh Olympic medal. He surpassed skater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian, flashing seven fingers as he crossed the finish line.

Montreal brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin, who were one-two for the opening five laps of the nine-lap battle, finished fourth and fifth respectively. There were 24 entries.

Jung-Su, a 20-year-old university student, earlier at these Games, won the 1,500-meter race ahead of Ohno and J.R. Celski of Federal Way.

“With the two Canadian brothers in the front, my strategy was just to advance,” said Jung-Su. “Once I advanced to the front, all I could think of was just staying there.”

Korean officials complained the more experienced Ohno, 28, was too physical in the 1,500 race. Ohno was a prince in the 1,000, going from second to last in a millisecond, at one point and keeping his hands to himself. He slipped with 2 1/2 laps to go, and at the media conference, said he was unsure if he was bumped.

Ohno took up speedskating after watching the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics with his father, Yuki. It was the same year Blair won her sixth medal, in her fourth and final Olympics. Blair, now 45, is a motivational speaker and author

Asked by a member of the press if he now considered himself the greatest American Winter Games Olympian, the affable Ohno struggled with an answer to a “very hard question.”

The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Ohno, who laughingly pointed his out his first name had been misspelled on the flip side of his press table sign, took the modest way around the question.

“I don’t put labels on myself,” he said, looking relaxed in a snazzy dark blue track suit. “I just consider myself an athlete who’s competing in my third (and probably last) Olympic Games. My goal was to come out here and pour my heart and soul into these Games, and I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.

“There’s no question in my mind that I skated very well today, and I’m happy.”

Ohno, who may be more universally recognized for his 2007 Dancing With The Stars TV show victory alongside Julianne Hough, was asked about his constant Twitter reports to his fans.

“I really try to let people into my head and see how I’m seeing the day and my experience during the Games. It’s a very healthy distraction and it gives me something to do when I’m laying around. It’s inspirational to me that just by being an athlete, I can affect so many lives.”

Ohno, who wore a red bandana underneath his helmet, qualified in the second semifinal after one false start. Charles Hamelin, at 25, the oldest of the two Canadian siblings, stuck out his toenail to beat out Korea’s Si-Bak Sung in a photo finish, taking a shoulder from the Korean as they crossed almost glued together.

Ohno’s father chose the name Apolo, a Greek moniker. "Ap" means “to steer away from” and "lo" means “look out, here he comes.”

Ohno’s rising star teammate Celski, 19, appeared to qualify in the first semifinal, but was later disqualified after the three referees, who wear suits, ties and skates, judged he caused Francois Hamelin to crash into the first corner padded boards.

“Sometimes calls get made,” said Celski, who received a gift-wrapped bronze medal, after two skaters crashed in the 1,500-meters earlier in the Games. “You just have to accept it. It’s just the way it is. That’s just short track. The race was fast from the start. I had to get up front so I tried to make a pass and got disqualified.”

Celski was stoked having family here waving the American flag.

“I had a really good first day (winning bronze). To be out here again feels amazing. My brother is here and he’s never seen me skate before.”

Tania Vicent of Laval, Que, finished eighth in the ladies’ 1,500-meters Saturday night, The 34-year-old was in fifth place for the first few laps, but faded and dropped to eighth place in 2:23.035. Vicent was fourth in the 2006 Turin Games.

Yang Zhou of China won the gold medal in an Olympic-record 2:16.993. Koreans Eun-Byul Lee and Seung-Hi Park pocketed silver and bronze medals respectively.U.

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