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WINTER OLYMPICS

For Apolo Anton Ohno, it's seventh heaven

With a bronze medal in the 1,000 meters, the Seattle speedskater passes Bonnie Blair to become the most decorated U.S. athlete in Winter Games history. Korea's Lee Jung-Su takes the gold.

February 21, 2010|By David Wharton

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — 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 him into the record books on Saturday night as he won the seventh medal of his career, more than any other U.S. athlete in the Winter Olympics.

History took the form of a bronze in the 1,000 meters at the Pacific Coliseum, pushing him past the likes of Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.

"It's an amazing feeling," he said. "To be mentioned along with some of the greatest names of all time . . . I'm very happy."

Happy enough that he didn't seem to mind losing to Koreans Lee Jung-Su, who took the gold, and Lee Ho-Suk, who won silver.

The race changed dramatically at the midpoint, with Ohno in second and feeling confident. Then came a costly bobble.

"In my head, I thought the race was won," Ohno said. "But then I had that big slip and lost all my speed. I saw everybody flying by me."

Lee Jung-Su, who had avoided a crash between Lee Ho-Suk and another teammate to win the 1,500 meters last week, never looked back.

"It's like a dream," he said. "It's the luckiest day of my life."

So Ohno had to scramble from the back of the pack, find that speed he had lost, just to finish third. It was a fitting end to a night when there was no easy path to the podium.

The favorites all made it through the opening races, but the semifinals proved tougher.

Charles Hamelin, the world-record holder from Canada, stayed out of trouble by leading pretty much from the start, and the two Koreans took charge of their semifinal about midway through. Hamelin's brother, Francois, advanced after judges ruled that U.S. skater J.R. Celski had fouled him.

As for Ohno, he hung back calmly, scooting through an impossibly narrow slot on the final lap to finish second.

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.

But when the final came around, there was no denying that he was racing to move past Blair and the six medals she had won on the long track, a career that spanned from Albertville in 1992 through Calgary in 1998.

Ohno had tied her, starting with a gold and a silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, another gold and two bronzes in Turin and a silver in the 1,500 here last week.

It seemed the relatively young sport of short track was rooting for him to go one better.

"We've been fortunate over the last few years to have someone like Apolo Anton Ohno," said Andy Gabel, an International Skating Union official. "He's brought a lot of notoriety to the sport."

Toeing the line for the final, Ohno said: "I just wanted to leave my heart and soul on the ice today."

Now he has a chance to add to his record in the 500 meters and the 5,000-meter relay later this week.

But the future was of secondary concern on Saturday, a night marked by what Blair called "A great feat."

With a nervy, gutsy performance, Ohno skated to a place that no American has ever been.

david.wharton @latimes.com

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