Lee wins, Ohno lands silver in 1,500 short-track speedskating final

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; D01

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- As usual, it was positively crazy. Short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno became the most decorated male American Winter Olympian in history Saturday night, winning a silver medal in a race in which he seemed out of medal contention entering the final turn.

But Ohno seized his sixth career Olympic medal behind South Korean Lee Jung-Su in the 1,500 meters just seconds after two South Koreans inexplicably got tangled up and careened together into the side pads and out of the medal picture -- not to mention the picture on television screens around the world. American J.R. Celski, close on Ohno's shoulder, grabbed the bronze medal at Pacific Coliseum, giving the U.S. team two medals in one short track event for the first time.

Entering Saturday's competition, the Seattle-born Ohno, 27, had won five Olympic medals in two Olympic Games, leaving him tied with speedskater Eric Heiden and one short of U.S. speedskating legend Bonnie Blair's record of six medals in three Games. Ohno is scheduled to compete in three more events here: the 500, 1,000 and 3,000 relay.

"From a results standpoint, anything more is just icing on the cake," Ohno said. "I do this sport because I love it and I'm a competitor . . . I'm just here enjoying every single moment of these Games.

"I'm very confident in my preparation and I know what I have inside me. I still have a lot of heart left. This is a fantastic start to the Olympic Games for me."

Celski, 19, meantime, is competing in his first Olympics, and it was a long road to this point. Back in September, he crashed in his final race at the U.S. Olympic trials, tumbling into the side of the track and slicing a six-inch gash in his left thigh with his right skate. Celski, who left a pool of blood on the track, was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. He thought his season was over.

But Celski, who had finished third in the 1,500 at last year's world championships -- one place ahead of Ohno -- fought gradually back. He hoped to compete in the Olympics alongside Ohno, who inspired him two switch from inline to ice skating in 2002 after watching Ohno win two medals in those Winter Games.

"It was a long five months," said Celski, who is from Federal Way, Wash. "At first, I doubted myself. I didn't think I'd be able to get here . . . My injury obviously happened for a reason, and I'm thankful to come back from it like that. After surgery, it was just like a blur to me. I put my head down and never looked back."

The night's final offered jockeying, nudging and confusion. Ohno took the lead with nine laps to go, then held it until about four laps remained when Lee and one of his countrymen pushed Ohno to third. Ohno fell to fourth with a couple laps remaining after a bump and tiny stumble.

Entering the final turn, he and Celski had slid so far back that they didn't seem to have any chance of passing the trio of South Koreans who were eyeing a medal sweep, but Sung Si-Bak and Lee Ho-Suk stunningly collided and flew off the track. Sung was awarded a fifth-place finish after Lee was disqualified.

"The whole race was a lot of contact, a lot of bumping and grinding," Ohno said. "It was a crazy race. I saw Lee Ho-Suk try to set up a pretty wild pass, and it did not work out well for him."

After crossing the line just behind Lee (2:17.611), Ohno (2:17.976) raised his hands and grinned widely. Celski finished in 2:18.053.

"It was crazy," Celski said. "I can't even describe what happened. . . . When [the accident] happened, it kind of shocked me. I was in third at that moment and would end up with a bronze medal. I couldn't even process it in my mind. I was happy and excited."

Ohno and Celski both had to sweat a bit to get through Saturday's semifinals. Ohno sat in third place for much of his heat before making a move with a couple of laps remaining. He crossed the finish line in second place (2:11.072) behind Lee (2:10.949) and, despite some jostling between the pair, the result stood. Canadian Charles Hamelin, a crowd favorite who was fourth in the event at the 2006 Winter Games, did not advance to the final.

In the last of three semifinals, Celski took the lead with seven laps remaining before being passed by Lee Ho-Suk. Celski cruised to the finish assuming he had second place -- and a qualifying spot -- wrapped up, but he was nearly passed by the third-place finisher in the heat. Lee finished in 2:13.585, Celski in 2:13.606 and Italy's Yuri Confortola was third in 2:13.645.

The 1,500 has proved to be a wild event in the Olympic Games for Ohno. He won the gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, but only after South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, who now coaches at the Potomac Speedskating Club, was disqualified. Kim had crossed the finish line before Ohno, but was charged with impeding, a call that infuriated the South Korean delegation.

At the 2006 Winter Games, Ohno failed to advance to the event's final, finishing eighth.

Besides the 2002 gold in the 1,500, Ohno also won the 500 gold in 2006. He earned a silver in the 1,000 in 2002, and bronzes in the '06 1,000 and 5,000 relay.

Blair won five golds and a bronze at the three Olympics between 1988-94. Heiden won five golds in Lake Placid in 1980.

Ohno has quietly creeped his way toward the record books, saving his stints of controversy only for competition.

Known as one of Team USA's most hard-working and straight-laced athletes, Ohno committed his most rebellious public act when he took time off from training to compete in "Dancing With The Stars" in 2007. Showing the same sort of fluid moves that guide him on the rink, Ohno won his sixth Olympic medal Saturday night.

"These Olympic Games are so much more to me than chasing medals," Ohno said. "It's about me finishing my full circle. I woke up this morning with a smile on my face knowing I had no regrets about anything I had done to this point. For me, this is that little cherry on top of my sundae."

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