Seven equals 1

VANCOUVER — It was barely a week ago that Apolo Anton Ohno insisted he wasn't thinking about making history.

Skating fast seemed more important.

"I want to podium," he said. "I want to win races."

That philosophy carried Ohno into the record books Saturday night as he won the seventh medal of his Winter Olympics career, more than any other U.S. athlete.

He surpassed long-track speed skater Bonnie Blair, who amassed six medals over three Olympics, 1988, '92 and '94.

History took the form of a bronze in the 1,000 meters Saturday at the Pacific Arena.

Lee Jung-su of Korea won gold and teammate Lee Ho-suk the silver in a race that changed at the midpoint with a clutch of bobbles and shoving.

The contact forced Ohno to the back of the pack before he scrambled back at the very end for third place.

It was a fitting end to a night when — as Ohno had predicted — there was no easy path to that podium.

Calling the quarterfinals "ridiculously stacked," he said: "They could be finals themselves."

Ohno has two more chances over the next week to add to his medal haul, in the 500 and the team relay.

At these Games, he has exuded a confidence that comes from being "in the best shape of my life mentally and physically, and I have no pressures," he said.

What about chasing the record?

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

So, where does Ohno stand among the American legends of the Winter Games? Coming into this race, with Ohno and Blair tied, there was debate about whether the short-track specialist belonged on the list.

Ohno's detractors point to the fact that, of Blair's six medals, five are gold and one is bronze. Ohno has two gold, two silver and three bronze medals.

By the baseline measure of excellence in sports, Blair trumps Ohno because the goal is victory, not placing high. But that doesn't always apply in short track, a sport known almost as much for its crashes as its successes. In this form of speed skating, there's something excellent to be said for Ohno's longevity and his ability to succeed amid peril.

Like Blair, Ohno has succeeded over three Olympics. One small difference is that, because of an old Winter Games schedule, Blair's success came over the course of six years (1988-94). The reason for that is, before 1992, the Winter and Summer Games were in the same year. Then they were split, with the winter coming two years earlier.

In contrast, it has taken eight years for Ohno to participate in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games. It's not that big of a deal, and it's tempered by the fact that Blair (who was 30 in 1994) was older in her third Games than the 27-year-old Ohno. But Ohno, a Dancing With the Stars champion, has needed a slightly longer attention span to reach his goals, and it has been a challenge for him with all the opportunities he has turned down to pursue athletic glory.

And two more years in short track has meant two more years' worth of risking major injury. He has remained healthy, focused and consistent in a sport that leaves a skater one bad movement from catastrophe. It's almost the speed skating equivalent to a running back lasting in football.

It doesn't make him better than Blair, or even Eric Heiden, who set an untouchable standard with five long-track golds in 1980. But Ohno's hardware cannot be ignored.

"I'm very happy for Apolo's accomplishment," Blair said in a statement from Pacific Coliseum, where she was on hand to watch the race. "It's a great feat for him, U.S. Speedskating, and the United States of America."

Seven equals 1 02/20/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2010 12:45am]

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