Apolo Anton Ohno is an American short track speed skating competitor and an eight-time medalist (two gold, two silver, four bronze) in the Winter Olympics. Ohno began training full-time in 1996.
He has been the face of short track in the United States since winning his medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics. At the age of 14, he became the youngest U.S. national champion in 1997 and was the reigning champion from 2001–2009, winning the title a total of 12 times. In December 1999, he became the youngest skater to win a World Cup event title, and became the first American to win a World Cup overall title in 2001, which he won again in 2003 and 2005. He won his first overall World Championship title at the 2008 championships.
Ohno’s accolades and accomplishments include being the United States Olympic Committee’s Male Athlete of the Month in October 2003 and March 2008, the U.S. Speedskating’s Athlete of the Year for 2003, and was a 2002, 2003 and 2006 finalist for the Sullivan Award, which recognizes the best amateur athlete in the United States. Since gaining recognition through his sport, Ohno has worked as a motivational speaker, philanthropist, started a nutritional supplement business called 8 Zone, and in 2007, competed on and won the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars. Ohno later became host of a revival of Minute to Win It on Game Show Network and served as a commentator for NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
When he was 12 years old, Ohno became interested in short track speed skating after seeing the sport during the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. His father capitalized on this interest by driving him to short track competitions throughout the northwest United States and Canada, and Ohno won several competitions in his age divisions. His father wanted to encourage Ohno to develop his skills and, although Ohno was underage, he got him admitted to the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center in 1996 to train full-time for short track. At 13 years of age, Ohno was the youngest skater admitted to the center. At first, Ohno’s commitment at Lake Placid was low until his teammates nicknamed him “Chunky”, which motivated him to train harder. In January, he failed to make the 1997 U.S. Junior World Team. Ohno adjusted his training and made a comeback winning the 1997 U.S. Senior Championships overall title, taking a gold medal in the 1500 m, a silver in the 300 m, and came in fourth in the 500 m races. At the age of 14, he became the youngest person to win the title. Ohno then relocated to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center to begin training with the senior level skaters, despite being only 14 years old. At the 1999 World Junior Championships, Ohno won first overall, placing first in the 1000 m and 1500 m, and winning silver in the 500 m.
He won his second senior U.S. national championship in 1999. He finished fourth overall at the 1999 World Championships and earned a silver medal in the 500 m. At the 2000 U.S. Championships, Ohno was unable to defend his title and finished third overall. At the 2000 World Championships, Ohno finished ninth overall. In the 2000–2001 season, Ohno won his first World Cup overall title, regained his National title, and finished second overall in the World Championships, losing to Chinese skater Li Jiajun. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Ohno emerged as the face of short-track speed skating among American fans. He was a medalist in two events. After a disqualification in the 500 m race, he was leading the skaters in the 1000 m race. During a turn around the final corner, Ohno, Ahn Hyun Soo, Li Jiajun and Mathieu Turcotte all fell in a series of collisions.
The last man standing was Steven Bradbury from Australia, who was trailing behind at the time, and skated through to win the gold medal, becoming the first person from the southern hemisphere to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Ohno quickly got to his feet and crossed the finish line to win silver with Turcotte winning the bronze. Ohno, coincidentally was wearing skates, made by Bradbury’s own boot company, Revolutionary Boot Company. Bradbury had given them to Ohno, expecting for Ohno to win wearing them. Rather than the other way around. In the 1500 m final race, with one lap remaining and currently in second place, Ohno continued to perform well in the sport after the 2002 Winter Games. He declined to participate in a 2003 World Cup short-track event in Korea for security reasons. Despite the absence, he successfully defended his World Cup title during the 2003 season. He continued his dominance by winning the World Cup title again in the 2004–2005 season. Ohno won two gold medals, as well as the overall title despite suffering from a severe stomach illness, and was surprised when the Korean crowd cheered his victories, saying, “I was really happy with the crowd’s reaction.
He was unable to defend his World Cup title from the previous three seasons, finishing third in the 2005–2006 overall standings. At the 2005 World Championships, he finished second overall, winning the 1000 m and 3000 m races. In the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Ohno stumbled during a semifinal heat in the 1500 m. Finishing fifth, he was unable to defend his 2002 gold medal in the event. Ohno was able to win the bronze medal in the 1000 m, with Korean skaters Ahn Hyun Soo and Lee Ho-sukfinishing before him. After two false starts from other skaters, Ohno won gold in the 500 m when he took the lead with an explosive start and held it until the finish. On the same day as his 500 m gold win, he earned a bronze medal in the men’s 5000 m relay, with an inside pass on Italian skater Nicola Rodigarion the final leg to put the United States in third position. Later, during the medals ceremony for the event, the winning South Korean team and the Americans embraced, followed by a group picture featuring the medalists. Taking a year off from competitive skating when the 2006 Winter Olympics ended, Ohno returned to win his eighth national title, placing first in every event during the U.S. Championships held from February 23–25, 2007. On April 26, 2007, he was inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame, an award which honors achievements of Asian Americans.
From March 9–11, 2007, he competed at the 2007 World Championships held in Milan, Italy, winning gold in the 1500 m due to the disqualification of Song Kyung-Taek, who had blocked a passing attempt made by Ohno. He won bronze in the 1000 m, 3000 m, and the 5000 m relay with teammates, Jordan Malone, Travis Jayner, and Ryan Bedford. Because of his wins, he became the overall bronze medalist, behind silver medalist Charles Hamelin and Ahn Hyun Soo, who became the first man to become a five-time World Champion. On December 24, 2007, in Kearns, Utah, Ohno won his ninth national title, finishing first in the 1000 m and the 1500 m. He also finished first in the 500 m, but was disqualified for cross tracking. In the 3000 m, he finished second. At the 2008 World Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, Ohno won his first overall title, placing first place in the 500 m, second in the 1000 m, and third place in the 3000 m. He defeated South Koreans Lee Ho-Suk, silver medalist and Song Kyung-Taek who finished third in points. In 2009, he won his 10th national title and qualified for the world team. Unable to defend his championship, he finished fifth in the overall rankings at the 2009 World Championships in Vienna, Austria, placing second at the 1000 m, and winning gold with the 5000 m relay team.
In preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Ohno lost over 9 kilograms (20 pounds) of weight from when he appeared at the 2002 Winter Games. He went down to a 65.7 kg (145 lb) bodyframe and a 2.5% Body fat percentage enduring a 5-month 3-a-day training program combined with a strict nutritional program. As a result, he could lift double the weight he could before the training. With respect to his training regimen, Ohno said: “Come these Games, there’s no one who’s going to be fitter than me. There’s just no way. Whether I can put it together on the ice or not and feel good, that’s a different story. But I know, from a physical training standpoint, nobody’s even close… I’ve never prepared like this in my life — for anything. I want to leave nothing on the table.”
During the U.S. Olympic Trials held September 8–12, 2009, in Marquette, Michigan, Ohno won the overall meet title and defended his national title. He won the finals during the 500 m, 1000 m, and 1500 m races. However, during the 1000 m time trial, Ohno came in second to J. R. Celski despite skating a personal best of 1:24.500 to Celski’s personal best of 1:23.981. Celski, who finished second overall and was leading in points after the first two nights of the trials, was injured during a crash in the semifinals of the 1000 m race when his right skate sliced into his left leg; he did not skate in the 1000 m finals. Ohno had a narrow victory in the 500 m, beating out the silver place finisher Jeff Simon by only .039 of a second. Ohno, Celski, Jordan Malone, Travis Jayner, and Simon Cho were the top five finishers at the trials. Afterwards, Ohno said of the nominated team: “This is the strongest team we’ve ever had. I feel really good about how we will do in the next Olympics.”
In the 1500 m final, Ohno placed second after two Korean skaters, Lee Ho-Suk and Sung Si-Bak, made contact and crashed into the wall during the final turn of the final lap. He was in fourth place leading into the crash, and as a result, moved into second place, earning the silver. Fellow American skater J. R. Celski finished with the bronze medal. The gold medal went to South Korea’s Lee Jung-Su. This win allowed Ohno, with six career medals, to tie Bonnie Blair for most medals won by a U.S. Winter Olympian. Heading into the 1000 m final, Ohno had won the overall silver medal for the 1000 m during the 2009–10 World Cup by competing in three of the four competitions during the season. During the finals of the 1000 m, Ohno finished in third place, making a comeback from a slip with less than three laps remaining.
With the bronze medal win, he became the most decorated American athlete ever at the Winter Games with seven career medals. Bonnie Blair, the former record holder, said she was happy for his accomplishment, adding: “It’s a great feat for him, U.S. speedskating, and the United States of America. We hope that more kids will see his accomplishments and want to try our great sport that has been so good to us and taught us so much about what it takes to be successful in life.” In the 500 m final, Ohno finished the race in second place behind Canada’s Charles Hamelin. The 5000 m relay team for the United States finished with the bronze medal. The team, consisting of J. R. Celski, Simon Cho, Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone, and Ohno, were in the fourth position for the majority of the race. With a strong push from Celski with two laps to go, Ohno as the anchor leg was able to pass the Chinese team for third place; Canada won the gold and South Korea took silver. This bronze medal was the eighth Olympic medal of his career.