Ohno recalls grueling climb to top in 'Zero Regrets'

Eight-time gold medalist will be at Johns Hopkins Monday for book signing

November 06, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

As America's most-decorated winter Olympian, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno has won medals streaking ahead of the pack, stumbling across the finish line and nipping the competition at the end. He's won races he should have lost and lost races he might have won.

As he always says — win or lose — "That's short track."

Now, the 28-year-old has written a book with former Los Angeles Times reporter Alan Abrahamson, "Zero Regrets," that takes readers from his early rebellious days to the grueling training sessions that led up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On Monday at 5 p.m., he will be at Barnes and Noble at Johns Hopkins University, 3330 St. Paul St. for a short book signing session. He also is spreading the anti-underage drinking message as spokesman for The Century Council.

Ohno called in for a brief chat last week while on a 23-stop book tour.

Question: Ten years ago, you wrote, "I want seven world championships, six gold medals and to be a legend in speed skating." You have eight world championships, eight Olympic medals — two of them gold — you're the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian and you won "Dancing with the Stars." Are you satisfied?

Answer: I'm always looking for the next challenge in my life. With this book, I'm excited about what's to come. I'm very excited about inspiring people, speaking to kids, trying to get them inspired, doing every single thing I can to try to get people to be the best they can be. And it's not just within skating. It's in business, in life, in whatever path, whatever direction I'm trying to go in next. As long as I'm passionate about it, that's what I'm all about.

Q: Your description of each of your memorable races is vivid. Did you have to go back and watch the video tape or are you like a world-class pitcher who remembers each classic confrontation?

A: It was important for us to watch every, single race and we actually did that. It was awesome. I'm a very analytical person so when I re-watch something I notice a lot of different technical aspects I was doing wrong, some hesitation, always things I can improve on. Sometimes I don't like watching myself, but obviously it was a necessity.

Q: You say you have zero regrets, but do you have an desire for a do-over or two?

A: There are a lot of things in my life that on a first look, I wish I had done differently. But on a second look, you know what? I don't think I would change anything. Everything happened in my life for a reason. It shaped me to be who I am today. Out of every single bad decision or mistake I learned from it and came out stronger. I think it was all worth it.

Q: Your description of training for Vancouver is painful to read. You lost a dozen pounds from an already buff form, dropped your body fat from 6 percent to, like, 2 percent and lifted insane amounts of weight. Does that hurt for you to read about it now?

A: It's awesome, it's awesome. It's almost like, 'Wow, I really did this.' It's wild. I don't have time to work out now because I'm so busy. I was reading through the notes of what John [Schaeffer] and I were doing in training and literally, in the morning, the 45-minute warm-up, is what I get in for a work out today. So I'm missing eight hours of training.

Q: I've seen the Oreo commercials you made with Shaquille O'Neill, Venus Williams and Eli Manning. How many cookies did it take for you to nail that 19-second, "Twist it, lick it, dunk it, enjoy it" demonstration?

A: (Laughing) Eight. It's my lucky number, too.

Q: You're known for explaining the intense, split-second world of your sport with a shrug, a smile and two words: "That's short track." In Salt Lake City in 2002, you won silver in the 1,000-meter final by being able to scramble to your feet after a massive pile-up to finish behind Aussie Steve Bradley — the last man standing. In Vancouver — same distance — you skated brilliantly but finished third. Also in Vancouver, in the 500-meter, you were the victim of a disqualification that really wasn't. Which race best describes the craziness of your sport?

A: There's not one race that defines the sport. Those are not typical short-track races. Before that 1,000 in Salt Lake City, I had never seen anything like that happen before. In the Olympics, some unforeseen circumstances can happen. You just have to be mentally prepared to handle them. If you can, you do well. If not, you don't.

Q: You'd think with all of that speed, all of that mayhem, all of those spilt-second tactical decisions, the sport would get more love on TV. It would seem to be a natural in even non-Olympic years.

A: I think the sport has the potential to do amazing things. I think it's got to be marketed the right way and the right people have to be involved. I'm passionate about the sport and I think it's amazing. I think it's just going to take time.

Q: Simon Cho, one of your teammates, grew up in Maryland and now trains in Salt Lake City. He won a bronze medal in Vancouver in the 5,000-meter relay and this year has medaled at world championships and World Cup events. At 19, what's his future with the team?

A: Simon is an amazing skater. He's growing and showing some impressive leadership skills. He has a lot of experience and I think he has the talent to be a great short-track speed skater. We're great friends and I've tried to help him along the way. I'm excited to see what he can do.

Q: Even though you eventually won, I thought your rumba in "Dancing with the Stars" deserved better marks.

A: (Laughing). I agree.

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