Apolo Ohno

Remembering South Korea’s ‘Ohno celebration’ at 2002 World Cup

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One of the most memorable intersections of the World Cup and the Olympics occurred in 2002, when South Korea and Japan hosted the world’s biggest soccer tournament four months after the U.S. hosted the Winter Games.

In that World Cup, the U.S. and South Korea played a group-stage match to a 1-1 tie in the South Korean city of Daegu (which would hold the 2011 World Track and Field Championships).

The equalizer in that match came from South Korean substitute Ahn Jung-Hwan, whose header beat U.S. goalie Brad Friedel in the 78th minute (video here).

Ahn sprinted toward a corner after scoring, amid a cauldron of cheers from some 60,000 South Koreans, and broke into a unique celebration.

He came to a stop, leaned forward and made overt striding motions with his arms and legs. The meaning behind it wasn’t immediately apparent to ESPN commentators Jack Edwards and Ty Keough — Edwards referred to Ahn’s gesture 10 minutes after the goal on the broadcast — but had to be to any ardent fan of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Ahn was throwing shade at U.S. short track speed skater Apolo Ohno (then better known as Apolo Anton Ohno).

In the 2002 Olympics, Ohno won his first career gold medal in the 1500m final despite not crossing the finish line first. South Korean Kim Dong-Sung beat Ohno but was disqualified for cross-tracking, a fate he learned while carrying a South Korean flag in a victory celebration.

source: Getty Images
Ahn’s teammates joined the celebration after his 78th-minute goal. (Getty Images)

Kim memorably slammed the flag onto the ice. The controversial decision apparently lingered in South Korea through the spring and into the first World Cup hosted in Asia. Some reports from a decade ago:

* During the Winter Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee received so much hate mail in the hours after the DQ that its computer system crashed. (New York Times)

* Ohno said he received death threats.

* A Seoul newspaper dubbed him “the most hated athlete in South Korea.” (Ohno’s autobiography)

* Ohno skipped a short track World Cup stop in South Korea in 2003. When he later returned for a competition in South Korea, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. (NYT)

* Ohno’s reaction was to laugh it off, saying Ahn needed to work on his technique. It was “unfortunate that they’re lingering on something that wasn’t even my decision,” he told the Seattle Times. (AP)

* The U.S. team, which made an inspiring run to the quarterfinals, was unaware what Ahn’s celebration meant. “Is that what he was doing?” said Landon Donovan, who was 20 and playing in his first World Cup. “It’s kind of a joke. Why do you have to do that? It has no relevance to this game.” (AP)

* “We knew that our people still have some grudge against the United States for the skating incident, so we wanted to allay that with the goal ceremony,” Ahn told reporters after the game.

Photos: Apolo Ohno completes Ironman 70.3 Boise

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
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NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

MORE: U.S. goes one-two in Olympic mixed doubles

Ryan Bailey, former Summer Olympic medalist: My goal is Winter Olympics

Ryan Bailey, Usain Bolt
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Ryan Bailey is looking for thrills and another Olympic medal.

Bobsled might be his ticket to both.

Bailey — a longtime sprinting specialist and a Summer Olympic veteran — won the U.S. bobsled preliminary push championship for rookie hopefuls in Lake Placid, New York, on Saturday, the first step on a path that he’s hoping leads to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“That’s obviously the goal,” Bailey said after Saturday’s competition. “I’m not here to be just part of the team. I’m here to actually be on the Olympic team and make one of those spots. That’s what I’m shooting for. Hopefully once I get on ice everything can transition the way I’m expecting. That’s what I want and hopefully the coaches can see that.”

Bailey sprinted for the U.S. at the London Olympics four years ago and left with a silver medal from the 4×100-meter relay, though Tyson Gay‘s doping case eventually meant that medal had to be returned and reallocated. Bailey also made the 100-meter final in those games, racing alongside Usain Bolt and some of the other fastest men alive.

He tried to make the U.S. team for the just-completed Rio Games, but a bad hamstring doomed his chances of qualifying. So now, it’s a winter sport that he’s turning to with hopes of securing a medal — and keeping it this time.

“I’m still not over it,” Bailey said.

It’s not uncommon for bobsled and track to be luring the same athletes.

Lauryn Williams medaled as a sprinter in the summer games, and teamed with Elana Meyers Taylor to win silver at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Longtime U.S. hurdles star Lolo Jones was on the Sochi team as a push athlete and should be in the mix for another spot in 2018. Tianna Bartoletta won gold in both the long jump and the 4×100-meter relay in Rio, and credited the time she spent as a World Cup-caliber bobsledder as a major help.

And in years past, the track-to-bobsled switch was pulled off by the likes of Edwin Moses, Willie Davenport and Renaldo Nehemiah.

Bailey could be next. His win Saturday earns him a spot at the national push championships, which will be held on ice in Calgary, Canada next month. From there, a national team spot could await — and if that happens, that 2018 Olympic spot would only get closer to his reach.

“I’m an adrenalin junkie, I guess,” Bailey said. “So seeing a sled go 80, 90 miles an hour down a hill, to me that looks like pure fun.”

This was Bailey’s first trip to Lake Placid, and part of the trip included a walk along the U.S. team’s home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg. There’s no ice on the track yet, but even as just a concrete tube Bailey understood the challenge that awaits.

“Walking down the track and through the curves, I was in awe,” Bailey said. “These things are 20 feet tall, it’s ridiculous, it’s basically vertical. I can’t imagine flying through there.”

Other winners Saturday included Briauna Jones in women’s bobsled, Nikia Squire in women’s skeleton and Christopher Strup in men’s skeleton.

MORE: Steven Holcomb reacts to Russia bobsled doping report