Speedskater Cho has come a long way from Laurel

Short-track competitor, 18, had to learn to love his sport again

February 19, 2010|By Brian Hamilton | Tribune Olympic Bureau

VANCOUVER — - On the morning of the Super Bowl, Simon Cho awoke in the Olympic Village, greeting this unexpected arrangement with saucer-wide eyes.

He had moved in a day earlier, an 18-year-old Winter Games neophyte swept off his skates by the world-class talent around him. At the moment, his future was boundless.

A year before, Cho was content to accept his fate lying down. Almost literally.

"Last year, I was sitting at my house, watching the Super Bowl with my friends, doing absolutely nothing," Cho said. "The next year, I'm in this position where I get to be an ambassador for my country. I've made a huge leap in short-track, and my life, in the span of one year."

Cho, who lived in Laurel with his family before moving to Salt Lake City, qualified to race in the 500-meter short-track speedskating event at these Winter Games, doing so at Olympic trials he perceived to be the last competitive event of his career.

In early 2009, his passion for the sport had waned. His training left him drained. He had, in his words, "completely lost any self-esteem that I had." He expected to race at the trials and move on.

Then short-track stars Apolo Anton Ohno and J.R. Celski got tangled on the fourth lap of the 500-meter final at the trials. Celski crashed to disqualification, and Cho zipped to a win. Crossing the finish line, he simply shrugged.

"I was like, 'I don't mind Olympic trials being my last competition ever, so let's just go out and do the best I can and see what happens,' " Cho said. "After I made the team, I feel like my future has changed because of my results. Now I want to continue skating on towards 2014, and probably onto 2018. I'm young, and I feel like my body is going to be able to make it."

Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea, and began speedskating at age 3 - thanks to a father who saw a son with energy that needed to be channeled.

The family moved to Chicago before settling in Maryland in 2000. Eventually, he hooked up with the current national team coach, Jimmy Jang. Cho moved to Salt Lake City in 2007 - by himself.

"When I first moved to Salt Lake, I was excited," Cho said. "I was young, I was 15 years old, and I enjoyed being away from home. It was definitely a new realm for me, and I felt like I'd grown up, living on my own. Which wasn't the case. I thought I'd grown up, but I still had a lot of growing up to do."

Eventually, Cho's intense, win-oriented over-training caught up with him. His love for skating was exhausted. But discussions with prominent national team members Shani Davis and Ohno early in 2009 encouraged him to relieve the pressure and free himself to chart a new course.

"Once I was able to regain my passion and love for the sport, skating became really simple," Cho said. "When I went out there, it was just the simplicity of me loving what I love to do. I lost sight of that in the past."

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