Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – There was no grand finale, no gold medal – and sadly, no class from Apolo Anton Ohno as the final moments of his career ticked away Friday night.
Ohno went down as the greatest short-track speedskater in history when he took what are likely to be his final Olympic laps here, but he did nothing for his reputation with a needless and baseless swipe at a celebrating host nation.
By lashing out at the judges who disqualified him from the 500-meter final, Ohno ended his Olympic career much as it began in 2002: with controversy.
“You know, it is the head Canadian referee [Michel Verrault] out there,” said Ohno, with a smirk and a shrug. “And there were two Canadians in the race.”
Ohno, who could have skated into the sunset simply thankful to be adorned with yet another medal-gaining Olympic Games, instead offered remarks that were unfair and unfounded, that came across as an attempt to take some sheen off a truly golden night for Canada.
If that indeed was the intent, it failed. This was Canada's time to celebrate.
Not that Ohno hasn't had that opportunity many a time before.
For the 27-year-old heads into likely retirement as the most decorated Winter Olympian in United States history, now tallying eight pieces of hardware after winning a bronze in Friday's 5,000-meter relay. Yet the final impression he left does no credit to a man who claims to pride himself on his Zen-like calm and philosophical nature.
This was no unfair decision, no biased result. Ohno's disqualification had nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with basic short-track rules.
Trailing as the final foursome headed into the last corner of the 500, Ohno knew his only hope to medal was to attempt a daredevil move to the inside of Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblay, who skated inches ahead of Ohno in third place.
The dramatic move was the right call by this tough competitor, and he can't be faulted for attempting it. But there wasn't quite enough room to squeeze through, and Ohno made contact with Tremblay, sending the latter sprawling into the boards.
Boos immediately filled the Pacific Coliseum as Ohno put his fingers to his lips in a fruitless attempt to silence the furor. The jeers turned to whoops of raucous delight within a few minutes when the official results handed Tremblay bronze and darkened Ohno's mood with a disqualification.
“I just saw two guys go down and I thought I had the silver,” he said. “I have learned over many years that you only have control over certain things. I don't think I pushed him, not like they were saying, but it doesn't matter what I think.”
Such are the foibles of short-track speedskating, this exhilarating, rough-and-tumble sport where no quarter is asked or given. It's a reality from which the supremely talented Ohno has benefited countless times, scoring top finishes moments after a lesser result seemed certain.
But after battling through a tough quarterfinal and semifinal, Ohno simply did not have the pace to best Hamelin, Sung and Tremblay, not without a wild, last-ditch effort.
“I knew that Apolo pushed me because the last time I fell on skates was two years ago,” Tremblay said. “I knew that it was going to get called but you always worry a little bit because it is in the judges' hands.
“But there is no question of there being an issue with this referee. He is very fair and it has nothing to do with being Canadian.”
The awkwardness of the ruckus and the nature of Ohno's criticisms were in stark contrast to the delight on the faces of Ohno's Team USA colleagues as they collected their relay bronzes here Friday. It also differed from the childlike and endearing excitement shown by Katherine Reutter, the American who collected her silver in the 1,000 meters with a beaming smile and flung her flowers from the award ceremony to a young boy in the crowd.
And clearly Ohno's reaction was nothing like that of the Canadians, who had suffered so much frustration in this building during the course of these Olympics, only to end the short-track program on the ultimate high.
Friday was Canada's night. Apolo Anton Ohno turned his swansong into a disappointing afterthought.
- Apolo Anton Ohno