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Originally published Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Olympics | Seattle could bid for short-track speedskating trials

Apolo Ohno, America's biggest short-track speedskating star, has won five Olympic medals and danced with the stars. But there's one thing...

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Apolo Ohno, America's biggest short-track speedskating star, has won five Olympic medals and danced with the stars.

But there's one thing he hasn't done, remarkably: compete in his own hometown.

As Ohno's career winds down, that possibility is heating up. The Seattle Sports Commission is considering a bid to host short-track's Olympic trials or an international competition in 2009, before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Those Games would be the 25-year-old Ohno's third, and possibly final, Olympics.

A date and site have yet to be determined, but U.S. Speedskating executive director Bob Crowley said the Olympic trials will probably be held in fall or as late as December 2009, just two months before the Vancouver Games begin in February.

Among the venues considered: Safeco Field, Everett's Comcast Arena, the Tacoma Dome or Kent's new arena now under construction.

Short-track requires Olympic hockey-sized ice (30 by 60 meters), bigger than an NHL rink. So far, only Midland, Mich., has made public its intent to compete with Seattle for the trials.

Just how much influence does the soul-patched one have on who gets the prize? Not too much, if you believe U.S. Speedskating. Officials are playing down how much they'll weigh the Ohno factor.

A person with ties to the speedskating federation contacted the Seattle Sports Commission about bidding for the trials, said Ralph Morton, the sports commission's executive director.

"It's obvious that Apolo is their star," Morton said. "For them, it was, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great to have him compete in his hometown, right near where the Olympics will be?' "

No decision is expected until summer. Formal bids will be accepted following speedskating's board of directors meeting in Bethlehem, Pa., that starts Friday.

Board members will not only decide dates for the trials, but are looking to make substantial changes to the format, changing a do-or-die competition where only the top point-getters earn Olympic team berths to one where the best racers can still make the team if misfortune — illness, injury, crashes or disqualifications — befall them at trials.

Midland has a permanent ice center, a speedskating legacy and a campaign to raise an estimated $200,000 to host the trials. Seattle has Ohno, known worldwide as the face of the sport.

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Ohno grew up here, an inline skating phenom before transferring to ice. At 14, he moved first to Lake Placid, N.Y., to train, then to Colorado Springs, Colo., until speedskating moved its headquarters outside Salt Lake City last year. Ohno's training base is there, but he maintains ties in Seattle, where his father has run a hair salon for years.

"This is not about Apolo," Crowley said of the site selection, adding other factors, such as Vancouver-like altitude and humidity as well as proximity to the Olympic site, make Seattle a good candidate. "This is about selecting the best Olympic team we can have."

Of course, a packed house of screaming Ohno fans wouldn't hurt.

"That's always a plus," Crowley conceded. "It gives us instant credibility if Apolo is competing in front of his hometown."

Trying again

At 39, Bellevue's Joe Umphenour will be the oldest triathlete in the field at Saturday's Olympic trials in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The former REI salesman will retire from Olympic-distance racing this year after 12 years at the elite level.

No one would've blamed him had he quit earlier — three weeks before the 2000 trials, he broke his arm in a bike accident; four years later, in Bellingham, he was fourth despite a torn calf muscle. But he doesn't have the nickname "Tigger" for nothing. Red hair and a perpetually bouncy attitude have him going for a third try at Olympic team glory — and he's healthy this time.

Winners earn an automatic spot on the team for Beijing. If he doesn't win, Umphenour figures he'll need to be in the top two or three Saturday, and top two in Des Moines, Iowa, June 22 — where the third and final slot will be determined by points.

"I've been racing guys that're 15 years younger than me," he said. "As you get older, your engine becomes a diesel engine. I don't have that same pickup speed I did 10 years ago."

Notes

• Bremerton's Nathan Adrian was a member of the U.S. 400-meter freestyle relay team that set a world record of 3 minutes, 8.44 seconds while winning gold at the short-course world swimming championships last week in Birmingham, England. The 2006 Bremerton High School grad is taking a year off from California to train with The Race Club in Islamorada, Fla. Bainbridge Island's Emily Silver was eighth in the 100 free.

• Things are looking good for Richland's Hope Solo to be in the net at the Beijing Games. Solo, a Washington grad, started two of three games before Saturday's final of the Olympic qualifying soccer tournament in Mexico last week, allowing one goal and making two dramatic saves against Costa Rica in the semifinal win that clinched an Olympic berth.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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