Marcus Hayes: No longer Mr. Excitement, Apolo Ohno back at Olympics

Apolo Anton Ohno (right) trails Lee Ho-Suk in 1,000-meter race at last year's World Championship.
Apolo Anton Ohno (right) trails Lee Ho-Suk in 1,000-meter race at last year's World Championship.
Posted: February 10, 2010

VANCOUVER - At one point, Apolo Anton Ohno exuded a charisma. A genuineness. A real sense of drama and conflict, disappointment, triumph.

Now? Now, he exudes . . . exasperation.

He's clearly over it - the "it" being his ambassadorship of his sport, short-track skating, and his country, America, at the Winter Olympics.

And, well, we're over him.

We're done with the soul patch, be it his signature or not.

We're done with the Gordon Gekko hair, prepared by his dad who named him not after the Greek god but rather after two Greek words.

We're finished with the diva contemplations - as if, he would miss the 2010 Games only

2 years after winning the first world championship of his decorated career.

This Ohno fatigue, it's not his fault.

He was great too soon, something more than a prodigy.

In a country with crumbling race barriers, in a world whose borders became blurrier every day, Ohno was a Benetton boy who belonged to no demographic.

Half-white, it was Ohno's Japanese hairdresser father who raised him in a one-parent household. Apolo was a semi-delinquent Asian-American from Seattle whose weight issues and lack of discipline threatened to sabotage his ascendency in the sport. He became this wonderfully androgynous sprite . . . who dated the hottest woman in the sport. Maybe in any sport.

So much for stereotypes.

But even that compelling back story loses its edge once it becomes too familiar.

And oh, is he familiar.

Ohno won three of his five Olympic medals in Turin in 2006 (gold, two bronze), his second Olympics and his ninth year near his sport's pinnacle. It improved the pair he took in 2002 at Salt Lake City (gold, silver), and made Ohno the sort of C-list celebrity courted by reality TV. Sure enough, he danced with the stars in 2007, and he won.

"Dancing With the Stars" catapulted Ohno into the stratosphere of this century's relevance atmosphere, as housewives everywhere came to love him, desperately.

Now, he's been absent, training, just long enough to keep him from too much exposure and give NBC a third titillating head on its Team USA monster, with superbabe skier Lindsey Vonn and supernut 'boarder Shawn White.

They can even Phelps-ify him.

Ohno's five Winter Games medals tie him with long-track legend Eric Heiden for the most by an American man. He needs one medal to tie long-tracker Bonnie Blair, the most decorated Winter Olympian in U.S. history.

Yawn.

"I try not to think about it . . . My goals are a little bit different than what the media would like to portray," he said.

Smug.

And they are?

"I want to podium [medal]. I want to win races," said Ohno, who has a decent shot in the 500, 1,000 and relay.

He proceeded to insist he is in the best shape of his life, physically and mentally, and has never been as attuned to what his challengers will present. Sweet.

How so?

He didn't answer that one.

He blandly allowed that, being from nearby Federal Way, Wash., and having skated all over Vancouver as a youth, these Games add a measure of allure for him.

It was a joyless hour.

You can't really blame him.

Being Apolo must be exhausting. His latest deals include Alaska Airlines, Proctor & Gamble and Coca Cola. While boisterous Bode Miller bombed in Turin on the slopes, and while Johnny Weir's tardiness led to tears, Ohno fulfilled the promise he showed winning two U.S. senior medals in 1997.

"Apolo's on a different level," said Allison Baver, now his ex-girlfriend but still his teammate, and still smokin.'

Ohno, 27, appears weary of the view from the top. Tiger, he ain't.

"I've accomplished every single thing I've wanted to in the sport," he said.

He also said he will, at least, take a break from the sport after these Games. Maybe a permanent break.

Really, that might be best.

Send e-mail to hayesm@phillynews.com

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