For two weeks every two years we become enraptured with the Olympics. There’s just something about watching these sporting events that spawn national pride. It’s unique, as I wouldn’t have normally spent a Saturday watching speedskating and the luge, but on the first full day of the Winter Olympics 2010, there I was watching every single minute of it in the afternoon and the evening. I even watched the repeats out of Vancouver during the late night.
Because of our fascination with it, each year we seem to spawn a new darling or hero of the Games. Before it even officially started we had our first tragedy to get past, after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s untimely death on the fastest luge course ever. We’re looking for some good news to come from the Olympics games. We need a hero or darling to watch and root for to make us forget that image of the luge sled slamming into the wall and the body flying.
While watching the speedskating yesterday, I couldn’t help but get that feeling of deja vu. It felt eerily similar to the last summer Olympic games. I began to wonder if it’s possible that Apolo Ohno is the next Michael Phelps. Ohno is poised to have a record-breaking Olympics just as Phelps did, and he’s also just as exciting watch.
We started off not really knowing much about Phelps, other than the fact he was a good swimmer, but we know a little more about Ohno than just his speedskating skill, thanks to a season he spent on Dancing With the Stars, a season in which he and his professional partner Julianne Hough won. Now that he has that disco ball trophy decorating his awards shelf, can he add some more Olympic medals?
Michael Phelps has won more Olympic gold medals than any other Olympian and won eight of them in Beijing in 2008. His stats were known to everyone that summer as we tuned in just to see if he’d break yet another record, and he always did. We even watched his mom celebrate his wins in the stand. He went from being known for his swimming talents to being a househould name.
It’s possible Apolo Ohno could be on his way to doing the same. Previous to the current Olympic games, he’d won five medals, two gold, one silver, and two bronze throughout his time in the Salt Lake City and Turin Olympics. With his sixth medal, he would tie Bonnie Blair for the most medals won by a Winter Olympian from the United States. While he doesn’t stand to earn eight, he is racing in four separate events, and could become THE U.S. Winter Olympian to win the most medals.
Saturday Ohno tied the record picking up the silver in the 1500 m men’s short track speedskating. His first qualifying round was stunning as he sat in the back until the last lap, then blew past the pack. He started the same in the semi-finals, but didn’t stay back too long, because in a field of seven racers, it would be hard to take them all to finish first or second to qualify for the finals. He sat in third place, and it was touch and go, but he made it.
In the finals, Ohno was struggling to get up there in the lead. He tried a few passes that didn’t work out. He was in fourth place on the last turn with three skaters from Korea ahead of him. In a completely thrilling finish, the skater in third place attempted to take the lead, but tripped up himself and the skater in sixth place, leaving Korea with the Gold, but the U.S. with a Silver for Ohno, as well as a a Bronze for J.R. Celski of the U.S., skating in his first Olympics.
Ohno has three more potential winning events ahead of him. The Men’s 1000m, the Men’s 500m, and the Men’s 5000m Relay. He has a determination this season to win it all, something not previously seen in him. He went on a strict training and nutrition regimen, getting down to 2.5% body fat. It could be age-related as he knows he might not get back to the Olympics again in four years, as he’d be 31. Yet, t’s just going to make it that much more exciting to watch. He’s already tied Bonnie Blair’s record, and now we get to watch him try to break it.