Apolo's seventh

By Amy Shipley
Sunday, February 21, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- American short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno has plied his trade over three Olympic Games with a consistency that belies the chaos built into his sport. He has dashed past trouble. Slithered into good fortune. Ducked controversy. Piled up medals.

Saturday, he showed off a brand-new move: He leaped into history.

Ohno claimed his seventh Olympic medal -- a bronze -- surpassing speed skating legend Bonnie Blair for the most medals by a U.S. Winter Olympian. And he earned it, climbing from last to third place in a typically wild short track final. With less than a lap remaining in the 1,000-meter race, Ohno lingered in fifth place, but he accelerated past two Canadian brothers on the second-to-last turn and hung on behind Koreans Lee Jung-su and Lee Ho-suk.

Ohno, 27, has two more chances to collect medals at these Olympics. He competes in the 500 and men's 5,000 relay.

Blair won five gold medals and one bronze at the three Olympics between 1988 and 1994. Last weekend, Ohno surpassed Eric Heiden as the most decorated U.S. male Winter Olympian. Heiden won all five of his gold medals at the 1980 Winter Games.

As the skaters took the ice for the final, the crowd stood, roared and chanted "Go Canada!" Though Ohno received plenty of cheers when his name was announced, the most boisterous were reserved for Canadian brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin, who managed fourth and fifth.

Blair and Heiden, long-track speedskaters, collected more golds than Ohno, but they competed in a sport exempt from the crashes, bumps and high-speed passes that are commonplace in the short track version of the sport.

Ohno earned a silver in the 1,500 here, adding to the gold and two bronzes he won in Turin in 2006 and the gold and silver he won in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Ohno appeared to be in big trouble in his semifinal, swinging wide in third place with one lap remaining. But he recovered with a tight inside turn, zipping past Charles Hamelin and Korean Sung Si-bak, for the lead. He edged both for first, and Hamelin grabbed the other position in the final.

American J.R. Celski, who won a bronze medal behind Ohno in the 1,500, couldn't get another Saturday after stumbling late in his semifinal.

Celski was in second place when he tripped slightly, interrupting his rhythm and slowing him so much that Francois Hamelin actually tried to hold him up from behind so he wouldn't fall. Hamelin, however, did get pushed aside, careering into the boards, and Celski was disqualified.

Ohno has won medals about every way imaginable, and rarely smoothly. In Salt Lake City, he claimed his gold despite crossing the finish line in second place; a South Korean skater was disqualified. He got the '02 silver in a race in which three skaters collided and a last-place Australian slipped to first.

Four years later, he dominated the 500 meters, leading the race from start to finish, but in last weekend's race, Ohno claimed the silver only after two South Koreans collided on the last turn, flying out of contention.

In Saturday's quarterfinal round, Ohno handled his race as easily as if he were skating with friends at Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. He hung behind Germany's Tyson Heung and Hamelin before making an outside pass to slip behind Hamelin. There he coasted, sitting on Hamelin's shoulder, to the finish -- easily advancing.

In the women's 1,500 semifinals Saturday, four-time Olympic medal winner Wang Meng of China was disqualified for interfering with American Katherine Reutter, who slid into Meng and Korean Cho Ha-ri, sending all three into the boards.

Wang, who won the 500 gold medal earlier this week, won the bronze at this distance in the 2006 Winter Games. Reutter and Cho were advanced to the night's final.

After a bump early in the final, Reutter got pushed to the back of the pack and despite a furious push, could only manage fourth in the eight-person field. China's Zhou Yang claimed the gold. Reutter, 21, grew up in Blair's hometown of Champaign, Ill., and has called Blair her hero.

She decided to devote her life to speedskating after Blair made a speech at her high school when she was 16. Reutter finished fourth in the 1,500 at the last two world championships, so she wasn't a medal favorite here.

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