Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Near the end of another practice session in preparation for his third Winter Olympic Games, Apolo Anton Ohno toes the starting line for a final trip around the short track.
As the 27-year-old explodes in a flurry of arms and legs, ice shavings flying and light dancing off his skates, everything else in the building seems to pause. Teammates stop gathering equipment as all eyes are drawn to the 5-foot-6-inch speed skater as he races around the ice.
It's not the last time Ohno will be the focus of attention in the coming days. The Seattle native begins his quest Saturday to become the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian in history when he competes in the men's 1,500-meter short track speed skating event at the Pacific Coliseum.
With two golds (1,500 meters in 2002 and 500 in 2006), a silver (1,000 in 2002) and two bronze (1,000 and 5,000 relay in 2006), Ohno stands tied with Eric Heiden for most medals by an American man. Two more in the four events Ohno is scheduled to race in Vancouver would catapult him past Bonnie Blair's six to top all U.S. Winter Olympians.
Chasing history is not what drives Ohno these days, however, as he eschews talk of individual honors and focuses on what could be the U.S.'s strongest short-track team in history.
"I'm a competitor," Ohno said. "I want a podium. I want to win races. But this being my third Olympics, I'm very, very happy with my performances up to this point. My preparation has been everything I could ever ask for. I'm in the best physical shape of my life and mentally I feel very, very, very good.
"We've got a very strong team -- a very young team also -- coming into these Olympic Games and I think we all have very, very high hopes. Short track is not a sport where you can actually give predictions. But I think that we all would like to stand on the podium, absolutely."
Ohno, who in 2007 gained widespread popularity in the U.S. for winning "Dancing With the Stars," will also skate individually in the 500 and 1,000 meters and in the 5,000-meter relay. He is the favorite to win the 1,000 and could medal in the 1,500 and relay. He is clearly the anchor for a U.S. team that has high hopes on both the men's and women's sides.
"This is the strongest U.S. men's short-track team we've ever had," said teammate Simon Cho of Baltimore. "Our potential to win medals is higher than it's ever been. We have Apolo, who is definitely the veteran on our team, and we have J.R. Celski, who is also very promising to bring home a medal. We have a really good relay squad and we're very confident we'll be able to bring home a medal."
On the women's side, Katherine Reutter of Champaign, Ill., is among the favorites in the 1,500 as she tries to become the first U.S. women's individual medalist since 1997. Allison Baver and Alyson Dudek also have chances to reach the podium.
"This will be my third Olympic Games, and we have a chance of winning a medal in every race we skate," Baver, from Sinking Spring, Pa., said. "That's pretty cool."