Ohno saves best for last with 500 gold, relay rally

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TURIN, Italy -- If this was the end of his Olympic career in short-track speed skating, Apolo Ohno made it a glorious finale, winning gold last night in the 500-meter final and then adding a bronze with a stunning sprint in the anchor leg of the 5,000-meter relay.

Ohno, 23, racing from the front in the 500, as is his style, and opting for a red bandana to accent his soul patch, finished just ahead of Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblay, last year's world champion in the 500. South Korean Ahn Hyun-soo, winner of gold at the Turin Games in the 1,500 and 1,000, was third, earning a bronze. Ohno's winning time was 41.935 seconds.

For Ohno, winner of a controversial gold and silver after collision-marred races at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, the 500 firmly fixed his place in Olympic history: undisputed champion.

He had won a bronze earlier in these Games, in the 1,000, and his showing here also underscored a saying often heard in short-track circles, that the sport is currently the province of four nations: South Korea, China, Canada and Apolo Ohno.

Except for the relay, no other U.S. men won anything in short-track racing. The U.S. women won nothing. South Korea dominated the 2006 Olympics with 10 medals in short track; China won five, Canada four, Ohno three.

Ohno's two medals yesterday allowed him to match the U.S. record for men's Winter Games medals, set in 1980 by Eric Heiden, the speed skating legend. Heiden won five golds.

Ohno's showing also lifted the overall U.S. medal count to 25, second best in U.S. history, after the record 34 won four years ago in Salt Lake City.

After the 500 heats here last Wednesday, Ohno, sounding wistful, had said he would decide in the "next couple months" whether to keep at it in hopes of making it to the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada, just up the road from his Seattle home.

Late yesterday, Ohno was slow leaving the ice. He posed for pictures. He signed autographs.

Asked what comes next, he said, "I don't know. I don't know yet. I have to figure out what my next journey is going to be."

In the relay, a 45-lap event in which each skater pulls two laps, then gives way to fresh legs, the South Koreans set an Olympic record, winning in 6 minutes, 43.376 seconds. Canada came in second. Ohno's sprint over the final two laps gave the Americans bronze over Italy.

The others on the U.S. team: Rusty Smith, fourth here in the 1,000 and a bronze medalist in 2002 in the 500; J.P. Kepka and Alex Izykowski.

In the women's 1,000, Jin Sun-yu of South Korea won in 1:32.859, just ahead of Wang Meng of China. Jin is the first Korean to win three golds in one Olympics. She also won the 1,500 and was part of the winning 3,000-meter relay.

Yang Yang (A) of China took bronze in the women's 1,000, capping a career in which she won two gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Kimberly Derrick, 20, of Caledonia, Mich., was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the women's 1,000 - racing the day after her grandfather, Darrel Edwards, 74, died of a heart attack here in Turin. She ended up being disqualified after a tangle with Liesbeth Mau Asam of Holland.

Alan Abrahamson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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