Which may well be a mixed blessing. At the U.S. trials in December, Ohno scored big and drew plenty of notice—but for all the wrong reasons. About a week after totaling an SUV with teammate and best friend Shani Davis beside him, Ohno steamrolled the field with a performance so crushing that eyebrows rose only when he lost. After he breezed through the first seven races, winning the 500-and 1,500-meter finals, Ohno finished third in the competition's last race, the 1,000—a loss that, to competitors Tommy O'Hare and Ron Biondo, all too conveniently allowed Davis to win and claim the sixth and final spot on the Olympic team. O'Hare charged that Ohno and Rusty Smith had conspired to fix the race, and in the walk-up to the Games the sport found itself degenerating into a nasty stew of intrateam tension, Smith's defamation suit against O'Hare and an arbitration hearing that could well have ended with Ohno's being kicked off the team.
On Jan. 24, though, an arbitrator ruled that there was no evidence to support the charge. O'Hare withdrew his complaint, and Smith dropped his suit. Ohno insisted that he had backed off in the race only because he didn't want to risk injury, but reports that three skaters had testified to overhearing a fix being discussed and that the race's referee, Jim Chapin, had testified that he saw irregularities in the 1,000 were enough to create a cloud sure to follow Ohno to Salt Lake City. "I'm very pleased with the outcome," Ohno says. "I knew the truth would come out. I was concerned because I was losing training time and losing focus, but I'm definitely getting back on track."
Here, then, comes Apolo Ohno to a sport and a network in need. Here's a beacon of cool for the X Games crowd NBC is so desperate to attract, a winter darling unlike any other. The last time someone this edgy blew out of the Northwest into the Winter Games, she had her main rival kneecapped. If at a time of flag-waving earnestness, Ohno doesn't fit the old mold, that's just too bad.
"Skating as well as I am—that's special," Apolo says. "To be able to come out of that mess as I did is special. To be able to improve my relations with my dad is special. I'm happy with the way my life's going, the way I'm growing up as a person. Skating has changed me. I've had a lot of chances, and this is my time to shine."
Yuki's, too. Even though the bond between father and son frayed, it never broke. Through it all—every fight, every long separation—Apolo made sure never to go too far. Through it all, he continued to let Yuki cut his hair. Dad packs his scissors for every competition.
"I always end up in the bathroom, doing his hair," Yuki says. "Lately he wants to grow it longer, but I still cut it off."