By Beth Harris
The Associated Press
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Apolo Anton Ohno made history the hard way, overcoming a rare mistake that dropped him to last place before rallying to earn his record seventh Olympic medal.
Ohno overtook two skaters on the last lap of the 1,500-meter short track final last Saturday night for a bronze, surpassing long track speedskater Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian.
“I was never looking for that label,” he said. “But I’m not going to lie. The way you guys say it sounds really, really nice.”
The 27-year-old skater from Seattle has two gold, two silver, and three bronze medals in three Olympics.
Ohno already earned a silver in the 1,500 last weekend. That tally edges Blair’s five golds and a bronze in three Olympics from 1988 to 1994.
“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, U.S. Speedskating, and the United States of America.”
Also cheering him on was Michael Phelps, whose eight gold medals in swimming highlighted the Beijing Games and gave him 14 career golds.
Ohno, whose medals are the most of any short track skater, threw his head back, closed his eyes, and let out his breath in relief after 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 with three laps remaining, 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.’ ”
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 Saturday.
In the women’s 1,500 final, Zhou Yang of China easily won the gold medal. Lee Eun-byul of South Korea took silver, and teammate Park Seung-hi earned bronze.
Ohno’s mistake cost him a chance at gold and silver, but he came flying by Canadian brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin on the final lap to grab a spot on the podium.
“I had to basically dig deep and find extra speed, extra strength to be able to pass those two Canadian skaters,” he said. “To me, it shows me that I definitely earned it.”
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 scrambling after his slip.
He eased through the quarterfinals and semifinals without any of the usual calamities that make short track so unpredictable.
The finals 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 as well.
Celski was disqualified for causing Francois Hamelin to crash in their 1,000 semifinal, and Hamelin was advanced to the final.
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. ♦