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.

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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

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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