Ohno earns gold medal with 'perfect' race in 500

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The U.S. short-track speedskater never trailed in the 500-meter final.

TURIN, Italy -- A perfect race from start to finish for Apolo Anton Ohno.

Nobody was going to get in his way this time.

Ohno made this another Olympics to remember on the final night of short track speedskating Saturday, winning his second Olympic gold medal -- and even crossing the line first for a change.

Unlike his disputed victory in Salt Lake City, Ohno didn't have to wait for the judges to disqualify the skater in front of him.

Sensing victory was his in the 500-meter race, he threw up his arms and screamed, "Yesssss!" A look of pure joy and relief spread over his face.

"To lead from start to finish doesn't happen very often," Ohno said. "For me, it was the perfect race."

Well, this being short track, nothing is ever quite perfect.

Ohno got to the final on a disqualification, moving up when a Chinese skater was called for impeding.

"Both should have been disqualified or neither should have been disqualified," said Feng Kai, the Chinese men's coach. "My mood's not good."

Then, after two false starts by other skaters in the final, Ohno either got the ultimate start -- or got away with one. Television replays showed him tilting forward ahead of everyone else, and getting to the crucial first turn with a clear lead.

"I thought I timed the start just perfect," Ohno said. "It worked out well for me."

The soul-patched American wasn't done. In the final race of the evening, the 5,000 relay, he surged past the Italians on the next-to-last lap to grab the bronze medal -- the first U.S. medal in that event since 1994.

Ohno's eyes widened when he crossed the line in the 500, as if he couldn't believe he had another gold. He leaped into the arms of a U.S. coach and grabbed a U.S. flag for the victory lap. American fans rocked the arena, just as they did when he thrilled them by winning gold and silver in Salt Lake City.

"So much emotion, so much passion, everything was moving through my body," he said. "It's crazy."

Ahn Hyun-soo of South Korea was poised for a sweep of the individual gold medals, but he got caught up behind a couple of Canadian skaters, Francois-Louis Tremblay and Eric Bedard, and never got a chance to challenge Ohno.

Showing there were no hard feelings from four years ago, Ahn came over to shake Ohno's hand in the middle of the rink. Ohno hugged all of the South Koreans during the medal ceremony and joined them for a group picture.

Tremblay held on for second, while Ahn got by Bedard to claim the bronze.

"I was waiting for [Ohno] to make a mistake, but he didn't make one," Tremblay said. "Everything he did was perfect."

Ahn didn't leave without that third gold, leading the South Koreans to a victory in the relay -- essentially a two-team race against the Canadians, who took silver.

Trailing a half-lap behind were the Americans and the Italians, staging their own contest for third. Ohno closed it out for the U.S., blowing past Nicola Rodigari and gliding across the line for the fifth Olympic medal of his career.

Ohno got off to a shaky start in Turin, failing to qualify for the final of the 1,500 and settling for bronze in the 1,000. He was in danger of going down as just another high-profile American falling short of expectations in Turin.

Not anymore.

Three new medals make him just the fourth U.S. Winter Olympian to win that many in a single games, joining long-track speedskaters Eric Heiden, Sheila Young and Chad Hedrick, who got his third just a day earlier.

Four years ago, Ohno picked up his medals in two wacky races. There was a disputed gold in the 1,500, when a South Korean was disqualified for an illegal block on Ohno -- leading to outrage in the short track-mad nation.

Ohno got silver in the 1,000 when the top four skaters wiped out on the final turn and he managed to crawl across the line in second, then went to the medal ceremony in a wheelchair.

Ohno would still be stuck on one gold if not for that ruling in the 500 semifinals.

He appeared to finish third in his race -- which wouldn't have been good enough to advance. But the American moved on when China's Li Jiajun, a veteran of four Olympics, was disqualified for impeding another skater.

Battling for the lead, Li and Ohno clashed in a turn with two laps to go, nearly sending the American into the padding.

Ohno dropped all the way to last, then made a brilliant move coming off the final turn. He surged past a British skater, Jon Eley, and stuck out his right blade in a desperate attempt to get Li for the second spot.

The replay showed Li getting there first, but it didn't matter. He was DQ'd for impeding Eley coming off that last curve. Ohno moved up to second, and Eley also advanced.

"I thought I got [Li] at the line anyway," Ohno said.

Several reporters shook their head.

"I didn't?" he said with a bit of amazement. "It sure felt like I did."

Though only 23, Ohno hasn't decided whether to return for another Olympics.

"I've got to figure out what the next part of my journey is going to be," he said. "I'm just enjoying the moment right now."

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