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Was Ohno's well-timed beginning too good to be true?

Posted: Saturday February 25, 2006 7:36PM; Updated: Saturday February 25, 2006 9:05PM
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Apolo Anton Ohno
After a fast start, Apolo Anton Ohno led all the way en route to 500-meter gold.
Al Tielemans/SI

TURIN, Italy -- Apolo Anton Ohno was the last U.S. athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Games, but he is not the first to deal with an Olympic dustup.

After two false starts in the 500-meter short track final, Ohno took a deep breath and got in position with the four other skaters. Then, he leaned over his skates before the gun went off. Sprinting with quick, powerful strides, he easily moved into the lead after the first turn and held on to the front spot for all 4½ laps. "To lead a race from start to finish in the 500 doesn't happen very often," Ohno said. "For me, it was the perfect race."

Or was it? For the second straight Winter Olympics, controversy has followed Ohno after winning a gold medal. The rule states that a competitor must be still before the race begins. Ohno jumped the gun in both false starts, as did two other skaters. On the third try, Ohno insists he did not make a false start that would have disqualified him. "I thought I timed the start just perfect. The starter had been pretty quick all day. That's why there were so many false starts in the beginning. I was in the moment."

Ahn Hyun-Soo, the Korean skater who took bronze in the 500 and won gold in the 1,500 and 1,000 and the 5,000-meter relay, said he was unsure about what had happened. "I couldn't pay attention to the others. I was feeling tense and nervous," Ahn said. "I saw on the screen [afterward] the starting scene, and I thought that I should leave it to the referees. I was focusing on my race the whole time."

Silver medalist Francois-Louis Tremblay said there was no reason to fuss. "I am not going to complain," the Canadian said. "[Ohno] raced really well. Everything he did was just perfect."

At the 2002 Salt Lake Games, Ohno received the 1,500 gold after tossing his hands in the air to avoid a collision with Kim Dong-Sung. The Korean skater won the race, but was later disqualified for impeding Ohno's progress. The controversy sparked a national fury in South Korea, and Ohno skipped a World Cup race there in 2003 because he received death threats through his Web site.

Ohno, 23, collected two medals in '02, including the 1,000 silver. He won three at these Games -- two on Saturday and a bronze a week earlier in the 1,000 meters. Anchoring the final two laps of the 5,000-meter relay on Saturday, Ohno passed Nicola Rodigari of Italy to secure a third-place finish for the team.

False start or not, Ohno wanted to savor the moment. With a red bandana wrapped around his forehead, Ohno stepped to the podium for the final medal ceremony, the 5,000-meter relay, to accept his bronze medal with teammates Alex Izykowski, J.P. Kepka and Rusty Smith. With a big smile, Ohno waved both his hands in the air, kissed his medal and snapped photos with a dozen friends and family members. Said Ohno: "It's days like this that you hope it lasts an eternity."