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

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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