Watching short track speed skating at this Olympic games, a thought has occurred to me over and over: Why am I not watching this sport year round?
Short track just might be the most exciting sport I’ve ever seen live—and I’ve seen a lot of sports. Watching it on TV is nearly as good. What’s makes short track one of the best sports ever?
It’s so unpredictable. But don’t take my word for it.
“Short track is not a sport where you can actually give predictions. It just doesn’t happen,” said Apolo Anton Ohno. “Nothing is guaranteed. So it should be a good show.”
It’s a good show all right. Unlike long track speed skating, Alpine skiing, and all the sliding sports, it isn’t a time trial. It’s a race that requires strategy, skill and plain old guts.
But despite being so unpredictable, the best of the best somehow manage to shine. And no one shines brighter than Ohno himself.
With his latest bronze medal win in the 1000m, he’s now the most decorated American winter Olympian in history. He’s the owner of seven medals over the course of three Olympics—the most won by a short track speed skater from any nation. Simply put, he is the best of the best.
At the last two Olympics, Ohno cemented his status as a great athlete with two gold, one silver and two bronze medals. On ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” in 2007, he cemented his status as a multi-faceted champion (he won, after all) and a celebrity. But now in his third Olympics with seven career medals, I’d wager he’s cemented his status as something more: a legend.
“He’s our Babe Ruth,” said Jordan Malone, a member of the Olympic short track team. “He leads and we try to follow. He inspires dreams. He brings dreamers up to a new level.”
Your average athlete isn’t so revered by their own teammates as to inspire comparisons to the “Sultan of Swat.” And I think that speaks volumes about Ohno as a sportsman and superstar.
“He has created a lasting legacy,” said Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “Not just for his medals won, but for the sportsmanship and character he has displayed throughout his quest.”
In person, he’s handsome and charismatic—more so than the camera suggests—and that sure doesn’t hurt. But he also comes across as humble and likeable, which is more than can be said of many other athletes. (Evgeni Plushenko, I’m talking to you.)
“Anything more is just icing on the cake,” Ohno said last week about the possibility of winning more hardware. “I do this sport because I love it.”
And I love watching him.
Will he inspire a new generation to lace up some golden skates? Who knows.
But he is at least deserving of a new nickname. “Chunk” will no longer do.
I’d suggest “The Sultan of Skate.”
Ohno will have two more chances to medal in the 500m on Feb. 24 and 5000m relay on Feb. 26. You can bet America and I will be watching.
This post first appeared on the Washington Times Communities on Feb. 21, 2010.