Apolo Ohno talks Ironman, Olympic comparisons and Pyeongchang 2018

Apolo Ohno
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Apolo Ohno, the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian with eight medals, took on a different challenge this year.

The retired short track speed skater who used to train for 40-second sprints signed up for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The event includes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running a marathon (26.2 miles) back to back to back.

After six months of training, he crossed the finish line of the Ironman, his third triathlon, in 9 hours, 52 minutes, 27 seconds on Oct. 11. He raised his arms, flexed his biceps and yelled as a Backstreet Boys song played on loudspeakers (video here).

NBC will air an Ironman World Championships special on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET. Ohno spoke with OlympicTalk about his Ironman experience (peppered with some Olympic questions) this week.

OlympicTalk: Well, you reached your goal of breaking 10 hours.

Ohno: When I told a very close friend of mine who was a very, very good triathlete that I wanted to break 10 hours, he laughed. He said, you need another six months. You can do it, but you need a full 12 months to properly engage your body and muscle fibers to switch from being a sprinter to becoming an endurance athlete. But the mind is powerful.

OlympicTalk: What lifestyle changes did you make to train for the Ironman?

Ohno: I was maintaining all my different obligations in my businesses, in my domestic-branding life here in the States, international travel for my business, while trying to do a sport that requires half your day, at least four days a week. My recovery days were two-hour spins on the bike followed by a 30-minute run. Recovery, for me, should be chilling at home, getting a massage.

OlympicTalk: Was it tougher than training for the Olympics?

Ohno: Different type of toughness. When you’re about to leg press 2,000 pounds (for short track speed skating training), that’s more intensity, but it’s done in less than 10 seconds. We’re talking about a 100-mile bike ride, riding solo on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway in California) from Brentwood, around Oxnard and back and then running for 60 minutes. That’s a six-, seven-hour day, alone. There’s no escape. It’s boring. It’s brutal. It’s difficult.

The first six hours of the day, talent and your training will get you through. I don’t care who you are, if you’re going eight or nine hours, the remaining time is pure will power and guts.

OlympicTalk: Did you listen to anything on the long runs?

Ohno: I tried to cycle on and off with my music, because you’re not allowed to use it in the race. I listened to everything, from hip-hop, R&B, house music, podcasts. I’m a total nerd. I listened to podcasts at 1.5 speed. I’m crazy.

OlympicTalk: We know you have a very close bond with your dad, Yuki. What were his thoughts on you doing this?

Ohno: When I told my dad that I was thinking about doing the Ironman, the first thing he told me was that you shouldn’t do it. You’re going to wreck your body. You’re not an endurance athlete. I said, I’ve got to do this for me.

When I crossed the finish, my dad was in tears. My dad has a very good energy with me. He could see and feel what I had gone through.

OlympicTalk: Many Ironman finishers get a tattoo to mark the accomplishment. Will you?

Ohno: I am not. I am clean. I’m one of like 10 people in L.A. who doesn’t have a tattoo (not even an Olympic rings tattoo).

OlympicTalk: What was the toughest part of the race?

Ohno: I had friends who were part of a triathlon team, who were like, look, I need to talk to you before the race tomorrow. There’s a portion of the (running) course called the Energy Lab. It’s four miles. Your mind will tell you to stop. You can’t stop. You must keep going. If you can succeed and survive out of the Energy Lab, where it is so hot and the air is so still, you will be rewarded with the greatest final six miles of your entire life (to the finish line). The final two miles are basically going to be wondering when you can do the Ironman again.

The problem was, when I came out of the Energy Lab, I was expecting spectators for the last six miles. There wasn’t. So the hardest part was the Energy Lab, and the next 3.5 miles was brutal.

OlympicTalk: What other Olympian would you like to see do an Ironman?

Ohno: I think 70 percent of Olympic athletes could do this if they put the training in. We’re a different breed. We’re wired differently. Who would I have do it? Who would I want to see suffer? (takes several seconds to think) Shani Davis, if he could swim. He can’t swim. If he could swim, he would crush this thing. He’s a genetic freak.

OlympicTalk: What about Nordic combined gold medalist Bill Demong, who just ran the New York City Marathon in 2:33?

Ohno: Billy? He doesn’t count (laughs jokingly). He’s like a genetic anomaly. I talked to him (before the New York City Marathon). He was like yeah, I’m really pumped. I’m like, dude, you need to do this. You need to go pro your first race. You’re going to make the podium. You’re an animal. He should do an Ironman, because of his mentality. He’s an animal.

OlympicTalk: How does the Ironman finisher’s medal compare to Olympic medals?

Ohno: I display that (Ironman) one proudly. My Olympic medals are with my father. I’m very proud of them. I’m just weird about my (Olympic) medals. I don’t really show them. This one, I brag about being an Ironman.

OlympicTalk: Would you have given up one of your eight Olympic medals for the Ironman medal?

Ohno: (Smiles) Oh man, I don’t think so.

OlympicTalk: Not even a relay bronze?

Ohno: No, I can’t. Those are my boys. I’ll tell you the reason why. It’s nothing against an Ironman. It’s the fact that I sacrificed 15 years of my life for the Olympics. So every minute, every medal was so meaningful, regardless of color.

OlympicTalk: Any other athletic goals for you?

Ohno: I haven’t identified them yet, but I’m sure there are.

OlympicTalk: Something as hard as an Ironman?

Ohno: Maybe not as hard from an endurance perspective. It’s going to have to be intense, though. The true test of an athlete.

OlympicTalk: You’ve also done the New York City Marathon. You seem to be an adrenaline nut.

Ohno: But I’m actually not. It’s just when I commit to something, then my brain goes. But if I’m not committed, I’m laid back. When I go to the gym, I don’t usually work out crazy. I mean, I can. I’ll scare people at the gym. But I don’t do it all the time. I do it in cycles.

For example, my old strength coach and I. I said, let’s develop a 15-minute workout that I can do five days a week for 14 days straight with a specific training and diet plan. I want to get as ripped as I humanly possibly can. I cannot work out more than 30 minutes a day, though. So we developed this crazy, super high intensity workout. I haven’t done it religiously yet, but it’s pretty damn good. I like human data, human trial and error.

OlympicTalk: Moving to the Olympics. How do you think you will be received if you attend or work at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea (where you haven’t always been well-liked)?

Ohno: I think it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve been to Korea many, many times. I go to Korea in a month for business. The relationship is obviously much different now (than when I competed). I love Korean people. I love Korean food. I love the culture. I grew up around Korean people my whole life, even before skating. Some of my best friends are Korean. I think it’s going to go well. I’m glad I don’t have to face the Koreans in Pyeongchang, because they’re going to be really hard to beat (laughs).

OlympicTalk: If Viktor Ahn, the South Korean-turned-Russian short track skater, competes in Pyeongchang, how do you think he will be received?

Ohno: He’ll be an absolute superstar. I think they’ll get over (that he competes for Russia). He’s an anomaly.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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