By John Boyle Herald Writer
VANCOUVER, B.C. — One race ending in a controversial disqualification, and another ending with a medal.
What an appropriate end to Apolo Anton Ohno’s Olympic career.
That is if this was the end of Ohno’s career.
Ohno, who is from Federal Way and grew up racing on roller skates around the state, won his eighth medal in three Olympics, but would not definitively say if there will be another medal chase in his future. Throughout these Olympics, the 27-year-old has hinted that this might be it for him, but on Friday he left the door open to possibly return.
“It’s too early to say,” said Ohno, who earlier in these Olympics won silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000. “I never say never. This sport has been so good to me, but I can tell you I’ll definitely take a long break. A needed one.”
But if this was it, it would seem a fitting, if not perfect, ending to the career of the man who became the face of the previously obscure sport of short-track speed skating.
In his final individual race, Ohno, a man who has been on both ends of controversial finishes in his career, thought he had a silver medal in the 500, but ended up being disqualified.
Then in his final race, the 5,000-meter relay, Ohno captured his eighth medal, which his critics might point out was also his fourth bronze. While Ohno has the most Winter Olympic medals of any American, many have said during these Olympics that his accomplishments rank below those of athletes like speed skater Eric Heiden, who won five golds in the 1980 Games.
But even if these Olympics didn’t yield a gold medal, Ohno will make the short trip home as a content man.
“This has been the best experience of my life,” he said. “ … For me this has been my best Olympic Games of all time.”
The controversy came before the medal on Ohno’s last day at Pacific Coliseum. Skating in the 500-meter final, Ohno crossed the line in second position, but rather than celebrate a silver medal, he waited for judgment.
In a race where starts are everything, Ohno found himself in fourth place for most of the final. Knowing his time was running out, Ohno went for a pass on the final turn to get into medal position, but in doing so he bumped Francois-Louis Tremblay, causing the Canadian to crash. Just as Tremblay was sliding into the padded wall, second-place skater Si Bak-Sung fell on his own, allowing Ohno to finish second, while Canadian Charles Hamelin, who was bumped by Sung, did a 180 across the finish in first place.
After a brief meeting, judges disqualified Ohno, meaning that, in fitting short-track fashion, gold went to a guy who spun through the finish, silver went to somebody who slid across the line on his side, and bronze went to a skater who crashed into the boards.
Ohno didn’t seem to agree with the ruling, but also acknowledged that controversial endings are a part of the sport.
“I was in fourth place, I had so much speed that I put my hand up to not run into the Canadian in front of me, and I guess the judge saw something that we didn’t see,” he said. “But it’s out of my control. I gave it my all, and I’m very, very happy that I was able to come back and get my eighth medal in the relay … In this sport, I’ve learned over many, many years that you only have control over certain things.”
For most of that relay, it looked like Ohno and his teammates were headed to a fourth-place finish, but when J.R. Celski, also of Federal Way, gave Ohno a shove with two laps left, that boost was enough to briefly move Ohno into third.
In a frantic final two laps, Ohno fell back into fourth, then fought his way back into the bronze-medal position on the final turn.
“There were two laps to go at that point, and when you leave it up to Apolo, it’ll get done,” said the 19-year-old Celski, who took bronze in the 1,500. “ … I was thankful to be able to push him into third, and right when I did that I knew he could handle business from there.”
The U.S. didn’t go without an individual medal in Pacific Coliseum on Friday thanks to the silver won by Katherine Reutter in the women’s 1,000 meter. Reutter’s medal was the 33rd for the medal-count leading Americans — with the relay that total later climbed to 34 — and assured the U.S. of its most medals at a Winter Olympics.
The U.S. won 34 in Salt Lake, but are guaranteed to better that with a spot in the gold-medal hockey game and the gold-medal final of the men’s long-track speed skating team pursuit. With those two medals in hand, the U.S. will at least match Germany (36 in 2002) for the most medals won by a country in a Winter Olympics.
And while Ohno, skating in perhaps his last Olympics, was a big story Friday, it was the Canadians who made the biggest splash. With golds by Hamelin and the relay team, Canada now has 10 in these Olympics, the most of any country. And with 21 medals, Canada is up to third in the total medal count.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Olympics coverage, go to heraldnet.com/olympics.