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Apolo Ohno talks Spartan Challenge, 2018 Olympics in Q&A

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Apolo Ohno needs a new challenge.

From 2002 through 2010, Ohno won a U.S. record eight Winter Olympic medals in short track speed skating.

In 2011, Ohno ran the New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 25 minutes, 12 seconds.

In 2014, Ohno completed the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in 9 hours, 52 minutes, 27 seconds. He swam 2.4 miles (1:00:29), biked 112 miles (5:07:15) and ran a marathon (3:36:41) back to back to back. He finished within an hour of the women’s elite winner.

Ohno says he’s feeling the itch to climb another athletic mountain again soon, inspired by his latest TV venture.

The NBC Olympic analyst is doing play-by-play commentary for Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, whose second season debuts on NBC on Monday at 10 p.m. ET. More on Spartan is here.

Ohno discussed Spartan, short track at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games and his familiarity with South Korea in a recent Q&A:

OlympicTalk: What appeals to you about Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge?

Ohno: I saw this rise of obstacle-course racing phenomenon. I would say about five years ago, and it was really a lot of my friends who were not into sports kept telling me every other weekend, oh I’m going and you’ve got to try this Spartan race or Tough Mudder.

Then I noticed there was so many crossover athletes, either those who train for Ninja Warrior or those who are CrossFitters or triathletes or marathon runners and then when I was talking to Arthur Smith of the production company regarding this specific show, I saw the storyline of some of the individuals and teams they put together. That’s when I got really excited because I saw this opportunity to tell this story about why people come together, and they do these crazy feats of challenge.

OlympicTalk: What’s the closest thing you’ve done to a Spartan race?

Ohno: The Ironman is probably the closest thing, although I’ve done some amateur-style obstacle-course racing when I was in Asia and Europe. But nothing to what I saw on the show. It’s on the old set that they used to use for “The Walking Dead.” It’s like an old metal fabrication warehouse right outside of downtown Atlanta. They just transformed this place. It’s basically like a massive background full of these crazy obstacles. It’s what you would imagine Army boot camp times 100.

OlympicTalk: Do you have any athletic goals coming up?

Ohno: I think it’s time for me to look up something. I work out on the daily, but I’d like to do something. Spartan may be that thing. It seems like I need to get a good group of friends together. … The one thing I loved about training for the Ironman is I was able to get up really early in the morning and go meet people at the people at the pier, either from Malibu or Santa Monica, and then you’ve got people from all different walks of life who come together for this one common goal of competing in triathlon or Ironman competitions. I kind of miss that.

OlympicTalk: Your recently visited South Korea, a year before it hosts the Olympics. How was that?

Ohno: I’ve been there several times. My relationship with South Korea has been a long one, and obviously more highlighted than I think the average individual. But I love Korea. I always have a great time when I go to South Korea.

OlympicTalk: You met old rival Kim Dong-Sung there. What did you talk about?

Ohno: We didn’t talk about much. I don’t know him very well personally. I knew him, obviously, for years and years as a competing athlete. I studied him and watched him skate. He is probably one of the few athletes that I don’t keep up with. … I’m always respectful. I’m always cordial. I think he was the same.

OlympicTalk: Another old rival, Viktor Ahn, struggled a bit at worlds. What’s his 2018 Olympic outlook?

Ohno: You can never count him out. He’s got so much experience. He commands such a presence on the ice. Often times, athletes will concede to him, even if they are actually better. So I think he’s got a lot of advantages, still. I think it’s going to come down to his summer training, if he gets the same support that he did for Sochi.

OlympicTalk: What’s the overriding storyline for South Korean short track at their home Olympics?

Ohno: The men’s world champion was South Korean last season. But to me it wasn’t a clean win, and it definitely wasn’t a dominating win. You look at the years prior, even in Sochi, the South Korean men’s team were nowhere to be found on the podium [no Olympic medals for the first time]. They weren’t even competitive in the slightest degree. The world has changed. It’s gotten significantly more competitive.

Everyone has superstar players coming out of the woodwork. It’s no longer the top three of just China, Korea and Canada. I think the Koreans are under massive amounts of pressure to retain that legacy that they’ve built for so many decades of being the most dominant force in short track speed skating. I have no doubt and confidence that they’re going to show up prepared and ready, but it’s definitely going to be a much different scenario than they’ve had in the past.

OlympicTalk: Define success for South Korean short track in PyeongChang.

Ohno: They have to win gold. Nothing else. I would say the expectation both on the men’s and the women’s side is to have a dominant show on the podium with multiple gold medals, absolutely.

OlympicTalk: Is there one specific short track event that is most important?

Ohno: The relay is very important because, obviously, it’s a community. In South Korea, when one wins, they all win. Individually, I think the 1500m and the 1000m are very important to them. The 500m is going to be tough.

OlympicTalk: You mentioned pressure. What can you say about specific skaters on the Korean team?

Ohno: The women’s side, I think they have a very good shot. They’re up against some really strong girls from China, but I think, strategically, if they can put it together they have a very good chance of getting gold. If not, silver.

[For the men] you have Kwak Yoon-Gy. To me he’s got the most potential to be amazing. Some of the guys who won medals in the past are not on that team. So they’ve got some new players. But to be completely honest with you, I think they have to overhaul their training program. I don’t know what they’re going to do this year, but if they do, I think they’ve got a very, very strong shot at winning multiple medals at the Olympic Games.

OlympicTalk: What do you think is deficient with their training program?

Ohno: They definitely have never been shy with hard work. But I think now with the age of sports science, it’s showing just waves of accelerating both training and recovery. So, [South Korea’s] old-school mentality approach towards training, that’s what it is. It’s old school. If they can embrace some of the sport science components of how to approach their training program, they’re going to benefit immensely. Now, everyone in the world knows how to do their equipment properly. They know how to train for short track speed skating properly. They’re all monitoring their bloodwork, recovery, sleep, hormone patterns. It’s a different game than it was 10 years ago.

OlympicTalk: You wrote about a training stint in South Korea between the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. What did you learn about South Korean short track culture during that trip?

Ohno: Their commitment to excellence and perfection. I think we in the western world believe in this capacity of hard work, right? We all believe that hard work is important, and we have to embrace it.

There [in South Korea], just the level of intensity of training that the 8-year-old, the 10-year-old, the 12-year-old had, 4:30, 5:30 in the morning, before the sun was up. They’re at the ice rink, perfecting their technique. Sure, they may not be lifting weights or doing feats of strength, but their pure repetition of perfection, of doing something over and over and over again until it literally is perfect, in terms of the biomechanics, was completely astonishing to me.

I had never seen a commitment to that level before in my entire life. No one in the U.S., even to this day, has ever dreamed of putting that many hours of work in. They were 15 years ahead of the game. Now, everyone has kind of caught up, and [South Koreans] are still doing the same kind of training they were doing back then. Which I think is not exactly the most conducive to achieving that high level of success.

Now, they still won the world championships last season, so it doesn’t really matter. But when I was there, it was crazy. I was thinking I was going to get up early at 5:30. I got to the ice rink, and these kids have already been there for an hour.

OlympicTalk: U.S. short trackers earned zero individual medals in Sochi. Will they perform better or worse in PyeongChang?

Ohno: Their showings the last couple of years have been very, very lackluster. The No. 1 man in the U.S., J.R. [Celski], has battled some injuries. It seems like he’s got his mental game back on track, but, again, it requires so much more than just hard, physical training in this sport. You’ve really got to have that mentality. I guess you call it that killer instinct to go above and beyond what you think your competitors are doing. I haven’t seen that yet.

The women’s side is in a lot of trouble, and I think that U.S. Speedskating knows that. They’re just not even competitive right now in the world. I’m being obviously critical, but I think it’s fair to say. At the end of the day, I want the U.S. to do very well. I want us to win medals. I hope that they can turn that program around, but they’re going to have to do a lot. The Games are in February.

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MORE: Takeaways from World Short Track Speed Skating Champs

Birmingham Diamond League set for sprint fireworks; TV, stream schedule

Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles
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Look no further than the last two events of Saturday’s Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain.

Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a two-time Olympic 100m champion, races 200m for the first time since coming back from childbirth against one of the deepest fields in history.

Several minutes later, American stars Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles are expected to duel over 100m for the second time in their pro careers.

The sprints headline Saturday’s meet, live on NBC Sports Gold at 8 a.m. ET and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9.

Here are the Birmingham entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

8 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
8:19 — Men’s Long Jump
8:32 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
8:47 — Women’s Shot Put
9:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
9:13 — Men’s 400m
9:18 — Men’s High Jump
9:22 — Women’s 1500m
9:33 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
9:45 — Men’s Javelin
9:49 — Women’s 3000m
9:52 — Women’s Long Jump
10:06 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:14 — Men’s Mile
10:24 — Women’s 1000m
10:34 — Men’s 800m
10:44 — Women’s 200m
10:53 — Men’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Long Jump — 8:19 a.m. ET
Possibly the final jumps of Brit Greg Rutherford‘s career. The 2012 Olympic champion will retire at the end of the season and may not enter another meet after Saturday. Rutherford, 31, has struggled with ankle, foot, groin and stomach problems while finishing one of the greatest long jump careers: gold medals at the European and world champs along with his two Olympic medals. The favorite Saturday is Olympic silver medalist and world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa.

Women’s 1500m — 9:22 a.m. ET
Olympic 800m champ Caster Semenya was originally entered here but is no longer on the start list, reportedly due to illness. The field is still strong with Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan and Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay, who rank Nos. 3 and 4 in the world this year, and U.S. Olympians Kate Grace and Brenda Martinez.

Men’s 800m — 10:34 a.m. ET
The fastest man in the world this year (Emmanuel Korir) takes on the world champion at 1500m (Elijah Manangoi) in a matchup of Kenyans. Korir, a 23-year-old who ran for UTEP, last month clocked the world’s fastest 800m since David Rudisha‘s world record at the 2012 Olympics. Manangoi moves down and takes a break from his recent 1500m rivalry with Timothy Cheruiyot. Rudisha won’t be there. He hasn’t competed since July 4, 2017, due to injury. Saturday’s field does include U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy.

Women’s 200m — 10:44 a.m. ET
All eight women in the field have a personal best of sub-22.2 seconds (and rank in the top 60 all-time), which IAAF statman Jon Mulkeen believes may be a first. No name is bigger than double Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who hasn’t contested a Diamond League 200m in four years. The favorite has to be Brit Dina Asher-Smith, who last week swept 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles at the European Championships. Her winning 200m time, 21.89, made her fastest in the world this year by .15.

Men’s 100m — 10:53 a.m. ET
Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles, ushering the new generation of U.S. sprinters since the Rio Games, take on some of the world’s best here. There is Jamaican Yohan Blake, the second-fastest man of all time who hasn’t been near that form in five years. There is Brit Zharnel Hughes, a former Usain Bolt training partner who just won the European title. Coleman owns the world’s fastest 100m since Rio (a 9.82 in June 2017), but he ranks 17th in the world this year, slowed by hamstring problems. Lyles shares the world’s fastest time of 2018 (9.88) but so far has looked better at 200m, given his slow starts. Coleman beat Lyles by one hundredth in the first pro 100m duel on July 13.

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MORE: Ethiopian runner who protested at Olympics invited home

Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian come forward as Larry Nassar survivors

Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian
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Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian said they are survivors of Larry Nassar‘s sexual abuse, making it seven out of eight gymnasts between the last two Olympic champion teams to come forward.

Ross, a 2012 Olympian, and Kocian, a 2016 Olympian, spoke at “CBS This Morning” on Thursday.

“It was such a normalized thing that, between us, we didn’t think any different of it,” Kocian said. “We were told that it was a medical procedure. A lot of us had back injuries or hamstring injuries. That was our only option because he was our team doctor. That was our only avenue to accomplish our Olympic dreams. So, if we were to speak up, you probably wouldn’t have been in consideration for making that team.”

Ross said she wants an apology from USA Gymnastics.

“At first, hearing all the news about Larry, I really was in denial of it ever happening to me,” she said. “When I was 13, when it first happened to me, I believed that it was a legitimate form of treatment, but as the years have gone on and hearing all the impact statements of all the girls that have come forward already, I’ve realized that it was something terrible that happened to us.”

Previously, all of Ross’ London Olympic teammates said they are survivors — Gabby DouglasMcKayla MaroneyAly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber. And three of Kocian’s four Rio Olympic teammates — Simone Biles, Douglas and Raisman.

“It was almost like a family member, and on international trips he would bring us food or he would just kind of be the person that would always ask how are you doing, because the culture that was at the Karolyi ranch was a culture of fear, a culture of silence,” Kocian said. “That’s what let him to be able to abuse us.”

Ross and Kocian are rising juniors on UCLA’s gymnastics team. They are not competing on the elite level and thus not entered in this week’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Ross earned world all-around silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2014. Kocian is an Olympic uneven bars silver medalist and 2015 World champion on bars.

“USA Gymnastics’ support is unwavering for Kyla, Madison and all athletes who courageously came forward to share their experiences,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement, according to CBS. “Their powerful voices and stories will continue to be a basis for our future decisions.”

Nassar, 55, will likely never get out of prison. Once his 60-year federal term for child porn possession ends, he would begin serving the 40- to 175-year sentence in state prison after at least 169 women and girls provided statements in his January sentencing.

Athletes accused him of sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment, including while he worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.