Saturday, February 23, 2002
Ohno disqualified in 500, U.S. falls in 5,000 relay
SALT LAKE CITY -- Rudy was in the house. Fake soul patches were all around. Everyone came to see what Apolo Anton Ohno would pull off in his Olympic finale.
Another disqualification? Yep, but this one went against the 19-year-old American.
Another fall? Sure, but this one cost Ohno a chance to win a relay medal.
The final night of short-track speedskating turned out to be an Olympic-sized letdown for Ohno fans. But the 19-year-old said he'll leave Salt Lake City with gold and silver medals -- and no regrets.
"I can't ask for more than two medals, that's for sure," he said Saturday. "It was definitely the best experience of my life -- coming to the Olympics and performing so well. I'm definitely happy."
Ohno was disqualified in the 500 meters for clashing with a Japanese skater. Then he anchored a U.S. team that finished fourth after a fall in the 5,000 relay.
Still, Ohno will go down as one of the most memorable athletes at these games.
"I believe I did an excellent job," he said. "So many people supported me, all my friends and family and the fans, and that's just an unbelievable feeling. My first games and I got two medals. There's nothing better than that."
The competition was held before another packed house at the Salt Lake Ice Center, including former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani, Salt Lake City Olympics chief Mitt Romney and figure skating bronze medalist Michelle Kwan, who held up a sign that said "Oh Yes Ohno!"
Many of the fans wore fake soul patches in honor of the Seattle teenager, who undoubtedly sparked a fashion craze with the wisp of hair under his lip.
Having won gold in the 1,500 and silver in the 1,000, Ohno came to the rink trying to become the only American other than Eric Heiden to capture at least four medals at one Winter Olympics. Heiden won five golds at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Ohno's quest ended in the 500 semifinals. He sat back in third most of the race -- only the top two advanced -- before making a move at the start of the final lap.
The crowd gasped as Ohno pulled in behind Canadian Jonathan Guilmette, who was leading, but didn't get to the turn before Japan's Satoru Terao. They collided, sending Terao crashing into the boards.
Ohno's momentum was broken. China's Feng Kai passed the American, who crossed the line in third and then was disqualified by the referee for impeding.
Ohno simply smiled and stepped off the ice.
"I was waiting, waiting for an opportunity to pass," Ohno said. "The Japanese guy was wide on the corner and I came up on him. I barely touched him. He's so light, I think he was going down already."
Ohno still had a chance for a third medal in the relay -- speedskater Sheila Young is the only other U.S. athlete to manage that many at a Winter Games -- but Rusty Smith clipped a lane marker and fell with 26 laps to go. The Americans finished more than a lap behind.
Canada won the gold, with Italy taking silver and China the bronze.
The Americans were defending world champions in the relay.
"We were in perfect position," Ohno said. "There's no doubt in my mind if we wouldn't have gone down and I was there in the end, I could have done some magic."
Marc Gagnon and Guilmette gave Canada a 1-2 finish in the Ohno-less 500 final, then returned to lead the relay team to another gold.
Yang Yang (A) of China picked up her second gold medal of the games, winning the 1,000. Ko Gi-hyun of South Korea won silver and China's Yang Yang (S) took the bronze.
Still, the Americans didn't go without a medal. Smith, who has skated in Ohno's shadow at Salt Lake City, picked up a bronze in the 500.
Terao was given a spot in the final, but he finished last of the five skaters.
"Apolo has skated great getting gold and silver," Smith said. "Now I was able to get a bronze, so we are bringing home a treasure of medals."
Smith apologized to his teammates for messing up the relay. The Americans were running second until he went down.
"It was all completely my fault," Smith said. "I feel horrible about it."
Still, Ohno couldn't complain too much about catching a bad break. He won the 1,500 Wednesday despite crossing the line second behind South Korea's Kim Dong-Sung, who was disqualified for an illegal block.
Then again, Ohno was victimized by short-track shenanigans in the 1,000. He was leading on the final turn when a crash took out all but one skater. He staggered across in time to get the silver despite a gash in his left leg.
Ohno was still skating Saturday with six stitches in his thigh. The injury appeared to hurt him at the start of the 500, an especially crucial part of the 4½-lap race.
"I knew I had a downfall, my start at the beginning," Ohno said. "I really wasn't getting off the line."
Smith, a 22-year-old native of Sunset Beach, Calif., was a surprise winner in his semifinal heat, then got off to the quickest start in the final.
He led until less than a lap remained, when Gagnon made his move coming off the next-to-last turn, going by Smith on the inside. Guilmette also got by, but Smith stuck his blade across the line for bronze.
Gagnon pumped his fists as he crossed the line, having won his first individual gold medal. A four-time world champion, he was the sport's dominant skater through much of the 1990s but always came up short in the Olympics.
Gagnon made the 500 finals in the last two Olympics, but fell each time.
"It's the end of a journey," he said. "I still can't believe it."
Gagnon is the second male short tracker to win three gold medals, taking part in Canada's relay victory at Nagano. He has five medals overall, more than anyone else in the sport.
Gagnon barely survived the semifinals. He beat Kim across the line by an inch or two, eliminating the South Korean world champion.
Caroline Hallisey was the only U.S. woman skating on the final night of short track. She was eliminated in the 1,000 quarterfinals.