Sunday, February 21, 2010

'Couver Town Recaps: Lucky Number Se7en

(Apolo Anton Ohno shows off the Speed Skater equivalent of jazz hands as he indicates to the crowd how many medals he has one. Note to Ohno: Don't worry. We've actually been keeping track!)

Apolo Anton Ohno picked up his seventh career Olympic medal in short track skating on Saturday night, making him the most decorated American Winter Olympian ever, and the most decorated short-track speed skater from any country.

It was a very intense night of short track racing in the 1000m event. Both Ohno and American J.R. Celski made it through the quarterfinals to the semis, but there was a bit of a controversy in Celski's semifinal heat. During the race, Francois Hamelin of Canada bumped Celski from behind. Replays showed that the Canadian was manhandling Celski throughout the race, even briefly holding on to him, causing Celski to lose his position in the race. It also resulted in Celski shrugging Hamelin off and knocking him down. Celski then fell out of position and lost. After the race, the judge ruled that Celski knocked the Canadian Hamelin to the ground, which earned the former a disqualification. Also, even though Hamelin wasn't in scoring position when he got knocked down, he was advanced to the final. The ruling doesn't make sense to me, but it's all history now. Five skaters moved on to the final: two from hateful South Korea, Ohno, and the brothers Hamelin from Canada.

I don't know what South Korea's problem is with Ohno. Jealousy, perhaps? I'm told that in South Korea locals call him, "The King of Fouls," and even put his face on toilet paper. No, seriously. They've been sending complaints and death threats by the hundreds to the U.S.O.C. over the fall by Korean skaters in the 1500m earlier this week. I don't know why they are so upset. No one likes to see their athletes fall, but Ohno had nothing to do with Sung Si-Bak and Lee Ho-suk crashing into each other. They were all throwing elbows, you'd think these people didn't realize the race was being recorded and could be reviewed. But apparently, that's not good enough. Gold medal winner in the 1500m, Lee Jung-Su can't accept it. "Ohno didn’t deserve to stand on the same medal platform as me,” he told the Yonhap News Agency after he won. “I was so enraged that it was hard for me to contain myself during the victory ceremony.” Get a grip, Lee Jung-Su. Your teammates took each other out. Stop blaming Ohno for their mistakes!

So fast forward to last night, and you've got a pair of angry South Koreans and a pair of hometown Canadians working as two teams against Ohno. Ohno didn't pay it much mind and looked very relaxed going into the race. At the start, he was content to skate from behind. With just over two laps remaining, Ohno did his custom surge, landing in second place. At this point you can see on the replay that one of the Canadian brothers (take your pick, I can't tell them apart in the speed skating uniforms) totally pushes Ohno on the hip during a turn, slowing him down and knocking him out of the groove. The media is reporting this as a "stumble" but the Canadian totally put his hand on Ohno and pushed off. The result was that the Koreans surged ahead and couldn't be caught, but Ohno fought like hell and wound up passing both Canadians at the last possible second to finish third for the bronze. .

Afterwards, Ohno was a little disappointed not to claim gold, but took the bronze in stride. “It means a lot to me, especially in a sport like this,” Ohno said. “I’m all smiles.”

Ohno has won medals in Salt Lake City, Torino, and now again in Vancouver. His longevity and accomplishment in a sport that is so unpredictable is truly impressive. His seven medals of varying colors might not completely qualify him as achieving the most impressive winter Olympic display ever by an American in the face of Eric Heiden’s tally of five gold medals in one Games or Bonnie Blair’s total of five golds and one silver. It doesn't matter much though, as he's been the face of his sport for over a decade and won consistently during that time. And his legacy isn't over yet! He's got two more events next week before he skates off into the Olympic sunset. Go get 'em. Ohno!

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