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Monday, December 29, 2003
Apolo Anton Ohno
Death threat, Olympic plans
How do you follow up a two-year run that began with double Olympic medals and ended with an overall world championship?
If you're short-track skating whiz Apolo Anton Ohno, you probably don't.
Ohno's overall World Cup title the year after his high-profile effort at the Salt Lake Winter Games ran contrary to the normal down-year syndrome that typically besets Olympic athletes the year after they've peaked for the Games.
But a bit of a sophomore slump has set in on this season's World Cup tour, where Ohno ranks sixth overall in the face of stiffening worldwide competition, particularly from South Korea, China and Canada.
He drew his biggest headlines this season for a race in which he chose not to compete - a long-anticipated World Cup match in South Korea. Ohno and his U.S. teammates opted out of the match in Dechoun after a handful of Korean yahoos threatened his life on a Web site, apparently still unable to forgive a referee's decision that disqualified a Korean skater, giving Ohno a gold medal, in Salt Lake.
Missing the match left the Seattle native at a World Cup points disadvantage relative to other skaters who have completed the entire circuit. But he still has time to move up in the two remaining World Cup events this season, both in Europe.
Most of his World Cup points this season have come from third-place finishes. His lone first place came in the 500 meters at an October race in Michigan.
Ohno's overall focus remains the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy - and perhaps, he suggested recently, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
But questions remain whether the U.S. short-track program can provide Ohno, 21, with the support he needs to stand again on the medal platform. The sport, in spite of a golden opportunity afforded by the high-profile Salt Lake Games, seems to be in a constant state of tumult.
Short track's governing body this year fired its head coach for the second time in two years following the Olympics. The move was protested to the U.S. Olympic Committee - to little avail - by Ohno and other skaters.
Short-track's newfound fan base, largely drawn by Ohno, remains passionate, but small. For now, short track remains an obscure sport in America. The overall U.S. team remains a full notch below its competitors, both in numbers of athletes and performance. And Apolo Ohno operates in a rather odd athletic universe, as a major star in search of a stage.
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