[Viewpoint] Ohno: The undeserving medalist

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[Viewpoint] Ohno: The undeserving medalist

Apolo Anton Ohno was born near Seattle in 1982. According to his autobiography, “A Journey,” published in 2002, his Japanese-born father, Yuki Ohno, married an 18-year-old Westerner, who soon gave birth to Apolo. The parents, however, divorced after only a year.

Ohno was raised by his father, a hairdresser who wanted to raise his son as a mainstream American. Yuki Ohno ordered Apolo to live not as an Asian, but to dream the “American Dream,” and find a field in which he could succeed.

That’s how short-track speed skating entered Ohno’s life, and at the age of 14, he became the youngest U.S. champion. And that was when his ill-fated relationship with Korea began.

On Feb. 17, 2002, the 1,000-meter final for men’s short track took place in Salt Lake City. As Ahn Hyun-soo of Korea sped into first place, Ohno grabbed Ahn’s knee. The two men fell together, but Ohno quickly got up and re-entered the race. He won a silver, his first Olympic medal.

At the time, everyone thought the collision was an isolated incident. The real nightmare began four days later. Korea’s Kim Dong-sung finished first in the 1,500-meter final, and Ohno came in second.

Ohno, however, waved his hands in the air and argued that Kim had blocked him during the race. Koreans called Ohno’s arm-raising a “Hollywood action,” but Kim was later disqualified, and Ohno received his first gold medal.

Korea boiled over with rage and hatred. Gamers shot Ohno in the head in a computer game. Toilet paper was produced with his face stamped on it. Koreans began to use the term “Ohnoish” for abnormal, dirty tricks.

The specter of Ohno haunted Korea again on the morning of the Lunar New Year holiday. During the short-track 1,500-meter speed skating final, three Korean players all passed Ohno, and Koreans erupted with joy. But Lee Ho-suk tried too hard to pass his teammate Sung Si-bak, and the two crashed and fell together.

With their falls, Korea’s dream of a medal sweep disappeared. Ohno took the silver, and Reuters reported that it was another medal won because of Korean misfortune.

After the race, Ohno spoke thoughtlessly: “To be honest, I was expecting more disqualifications in the race.”

Anti-Ohno cafes immediately sprang up on the Internet and were flooded with criticisms of his manner. Some even criticized Lee for “handing the medal on a silver platter” to Ohno.

Let’s be cool-headed, now. Why does Ohno speak this way? Why is he so unsporting about Korea and Korean skaters?

For Ohno, this is probably the best route to success. He wants to win, and he has the talent, but there’s an obstacle in his path. And that’s Korea.

Korea’s skating community has only one weakness. Factional fights are severe, and the athletes are too competitive. If just a little bit of anger is thrown into the mix, Korean skaters fall on their own. That gives Ohno an easy way to skate around the obstacle our country presents.

Ohno’s success made him an American hero. With six medals, he has tied the U.S. record for the Winter Olympics. If he wins just one more, he will own the record.

The American media are expecting him to do so. He has three more opportunities - the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 5,000-meter relay. And the only obstacle in his path remains Korea.

Ohno knows that better than anyone, and that’s why he fuels Koreans’ animosity and divisiveness.

Let’s stop condemning Lee for now. When their fans become agitated, athletes lose their calm. That’s exactly what Ohno wants.

Sung’s mother, who was probably heartbroken, said of the team, “They are all my sons.”

She has the right attitude. Let’s unite behind all the Korean skaters and stop allowing Ohno to win more medals.

Although they have been tainted, the Olympic Games are still about innocent passion and amateur skill. It is ugly to see a player with such a low character treated as a hero. And Korean skaters are the only ones who can stop that.


*The writer is the business and industry news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Yi Jung-jae

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