Wily, old Ohno outsmarts competition

Martin Rogers

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Apolo Anton Ohno won his first five Olympic medals with his raw, electrifying speed. He won "Dancing with the Stars" with his twinkling feet and his beaming smile.

On Saturday night at Pacific Coliseum, he won the most satisfying silver medal of his career with his head.

Team USA's popular short-track speedskater, occasional dancer and larger-than-life personality no longer possesses the scintillating pace of the three South Koreans who were widely expected to keep him off the podium in the 1,500 meters.

Ohno joins Bonnie Blair as a six-time U.S. medalist.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Yet it was his smarts acquired by years of experience, plus the memory of a handful of haunting disasters, that enabled the 27-year-old Ohno to skip past 1980 Lake Placid legend Eric Heiden and into the record books as the United States' most decorated male Winter Olympian.

Ohno's level-headedness and persistence allowed him to capitalize on an extraordinary pile-up on the final turn, where Lady Luck didn't merely flash a smile at Ohno and American bronze medalist J.R. Celski. She picked them up and carried them on her shoulder.

Yards from the finish line, Lee Ho-Suk slipped and fell, taking compatriot Sung Si-Bak with him, gifting Ohno and Celski each a place in the medals behind winner Lee Jung-Su in the latest reminder that anything can – and often does – happen in this thrilling and unpredictable sport.

"This is the name of the game," Ohno said. "Short track is one of the craziest events in the Winter Olympics and this was a very aggressive race.

"In the past, I have been on the wrong end and I was the beneficiary tonight. It feels good."

A helping hand from the fates is a prerequisite for any short-track success, yet Ohno needed his brains just to get into position to make the most of his fortune.

Sensing there would be nerves, tension and crashes aplenty in the heats and semifinals, he waited his time to perfection in races fraught with lurking pitfalls. Ohno was content to coast at the back before making one blistering and decisive move to ensure he progressed to the final.

His maneuvers were so fast and were executed with such a minimum of fuss that they looked effortless. However, spots in the final were fiercely contested and some accomplished skaters, including Canada's world No. 2 Charles Hamelin, came undone.

"This was the most relaxed I've ever been for any competition in my life," Ohno said. "And it's kind of ironic that it came in the Olympic Games."

Ohno's theory is that if you tap into the minutiae of short-track's madness, it all starts to make a little more sense.

He does the little things that his carefree attitude might have allowed him to neglect earlier in his career: watching tape, studying opponents meticulously, even wearing a golf glove on his right hand because it feels better than a regular skating one.

These tiny details add up to a greater product in this sport where success and heartache operate on the edge of a blade.

Americans grabbed silver and bronze after the South Koreans crashed.
(Andrew Mills-The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE)

Ohno is still loathe to be reminded of his most famous last-lap crash, when he was held to a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and unheralded Australian veteran Steven Bradbury skated past four fallen rivals to clinch the unlikeliest of golds.

Bradbury, a close friend of Ohno's and now a successful motivational speaker, recently highlighted some of the secret techniques the American has employed to prolong his stay at the top of the sport.

"A lot of people thought Apolo was past it recently," said Bradbury in an interview with Yahoo! Sports. "But over the years he has got smarter and knows how to put himself in the right positions. I am sure he learned a lot from 2002 and wanted to avoid that kind of thing happening again.

"I think if the same thing happened now he would probably sense it and be able to stay on his feet. It didn't feel like it at the time, but what took place in 2002 probably made him even better.

Ohno's best chance for success at these Games was thought to be in the 500 and 1,000 meters, so his efforts on Saturday night could be seen as an unexpected bonus. Either way, he seems to be in a perfect frame of mind for what may be his final Olympics.

"Vancouver is where I learned how to skate, and I could potentially be finishing my circle and completing my career here in Vancouver," Ohno reflected. "So it is a historical night for me [but] not because of my medal count or because of my performance.

"It's because of how I prepared for this competition – how I was mentally able to put it together and still be able to come away with some very, very good colored hardware."