Column: Without Ohno, short track not as much fun

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm •  Published: January 3, 2014
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KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Apolo Anton Ohno is strolling around the Utah Olympic Oval, snappily dressed in a black sport coat and slacks, having traded his skates for a microphone.

He eagerly poses for pictures and enthusiastically chats up anyone who's willing to listen to his single-minded message: Short track is a thrilling sport worthy of your attention.

"I love it," Ohno says. "It's fun to watch."

But it's hard to envision it being as much fun in Sochi as it was during the last three Olympics, now that the guy with the soul patch is working from a broadcast booth rather than darting around the ice.

He was dynamic, scooting past rivals in the blink of an eye. He was fearless, willing to throw his body into a sliver of an opening that no one else could see. He was charismatic, with a bandanna on his head, a stylish wisp of hair beneath his lip, and a name that just wreaked of greatness.

He was, quite simply, the best, stepping onto the medal podium more than any other U.S. Winter Olympian.

Now, he feels a duty to keep the momentum going.

"I'm not on the ice," Ohno says. "But I'm still representing the United States in some form or fashion. I'm still an Olympic athlete. I just happen to be on the other side of the lines and hopefully bringing some different perspective for viewers to watch. Whatever it takes. I'd like to believe that people actually really like the sport.

"When I watch it," he goes on, in full salesmanship mode, "it just looks impossible. It doesn't make sense. Guys are whipping around the rink at 40 mph, skating on blades that one-millimeter thick, passing people."

Before Ohno, you would've been hard-pressed to find anyone in this country who gave a flip about short track.

Then he came along at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, a brash 19-year-old with all the makings of stardom.

Suddenly, short track was must-see viewing during the Olympics.

Everyone remembers him crawling across the finish line with a gash in his leg, claiming a silver medal after being taken out in a last-lap crash. And picking up his first gold when another skater was disqualified, setting off fierce protests in South Korea. And wrapping up his career four years ago not far from where he grew up in suburban Seattle, claiming his sixth, seventh and eighth medals at the Vancouver Games.