Apolo Ohno

Ten controversial Olympic outcomes

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Maximum Security’s relegation from Kentucky Derby winner to 17th place on Saturday conjures memories of controversial outcomes in Olympic history. There are many, many, many to choose from, but here are five each from the Summer and Winter Games, with help from NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen, excluding anything performance-enhancing-drug-related …

1912 Stockholm
Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe sweeps the pentathlon and decathlon, leading King Gustav V to tell him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Those medals awarded by the Swedish royal were stripped the following year when it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball, making him a declared professional athlete and his Olympic results voided by rules at the time. It took until 1982 before Thorpe’s medals would be restored and he would be declared a co-winner of each event. Sports Illustrated reported that a pamphlet was found in the Library of Congress of the rules for the 1912 Olympics. Those rules stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against an Olympian’s eligibility at the Stockholm Games had to have been made within 30 days. This exonerated Thorpe.

1924 Chamonix
The U.S. owns one Olympic ski jumping medal, and the story behind it is a doozy. Anders Haugen originally finished fourth in the first ski jumping event at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Fifty years later, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage noticed an error in the results that gave bronze medalist Thorleif Haug too many points. The correction bumped Haugen into third. Then 85, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal by Haug’s daughter at a special ceremony.

1968 Grenoble
French legend Jean-Claude Killy completed a sweep of the three Alpine skiing events, but not before his last gold came under dispute. Austrian Karl Schranz stopped during his second and final slalom run when he said he saw a person stray onto the foggy course. Schranz was given a re-run and beat Killy’s overall time. He was the gold medalist for two hours until being disqualified after it was discovered he missed two gates in his original second run. The Austrians argued the course trespasser was a French policeman who interfered with Schranz on purpose to boost Killy’s hopes. The French claimed Schranz made up the mystery man story after missing the gate.

1972 Munich
The U.S. men’s basketball team came to Germany with a 50-plus-game win streak, having won all seven gold medals in Olympic history. In the final against the Soviet Union, it appeared en route to No. 8 when Doug Collins sank two free throws with three seconds left to give the Americans their first lead, 50-49. The Soviet Union actually got three inbounds plays, the last redo controversially awarded by the FIBA secretary-general. Sasha Belov scored a layup on the last one to win 51-50. The U.S. players refused to accept silver medals, leaving the second step of the podium empty during the victory ceremony.

1984 Los Angeles
The women’s 3000m was one of the more anticipated events of the track and field program. That was largely due to American Mary Decker, who had swept the 1500m and 3000m at the 1983 World Championships. At 1700m and the front of the race, Decker’s foot made contact with the heel of 18-year-old barefoot runner Zola Budd. Decker went down, injured and in tears, and did not finish. Budd was booed the rest of the race and faded to seventh. Budd tried to apologize, but an upset Decker did not accept at the time. The two later reunited for a 2016 documentary.

1988 Seoul
U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. landed 86 of 303 punches to South Korean Park Si-Hun‘s 32 out of 188 in the light middleweight final, but Park won a 3-2 decision. A judge later said he felt so badly for the host-nation fighter Park that he gave him the vote, assuming Jones would still win 4-1. Park even apologized to Jones, saying, “I lost the fight. I feel very bad.” And Jones earned the Val Barker Award as the most technically proficient boxer across all divisions at the Games.

1998 Nagano
Canadian Ross Rebagliati won the first Olympic snowboarding gold medal in the giant slalom. But three days later, he was stripped of it for testing positive for marijuana, igniting controversy. Rebagliati claimed it was from second-hand smoke and protested. His appeal was accepted and his medal returned on the grounds that marijuana was not performance-enhancing. Rebagliati has in recent years returned to headlines for launching a legal marijuana business.

2002 Salt Lake City (Short Track Speed Skating)
Apolo Ohno was already burgeoning as the sport’s first mainstream star when, over a four-day stretch, he earned silver and gold medals in unexpected fashion. First, he flailed on his hands and knees across the finish line for silver in the 1000m after he and three other skaters fell in the final turn, going for gold. Australian underdog Steven Bradbury took the win as the only man left standing, but Ohno was praised for his grit and quick thinking. Then came the real controversy in the 1500m final. Ohno originally finished second again, this time to South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, but Kim was disqualified moments later for bumping Ohno during the race. Kim, on a victory lap, threw a South Korean flag onto the ice. The fallout continued. By various accounts, Ohno was dubbed “the most hated athlete in South Korea” by a Seoul newspaper and when he later returned for a World Cup competition there, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan referenced the DQ in a goal celebration of a 1-1 tie with the U.S., mimicking a short track skater’s striding motion. “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.

2002 Salt Lake City (Figure Skating)
An unprecedented second set of gold medals was awarded to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in the pairs’ event after a French judge said she was pressured to rank them below Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in what turned out to be a 5-4 judges’ decision. Later that year, figure skating’s judging system was overhauled. The 6.0 scale was thrown out. A code of points was instituted that, while undergoing tweaks, is still in place today.

2004 Athens
Gymnastics judging imbroglios in Greece ultimately helped expedite that sport’s judging system change. In the men’s all-around final, South Korean Yang Tae-Young‘s parallel bars score was protested by his federation two days after the event for having a start value one tenth too low. Had it been a tenth higher, Yang would have earned gold rather than the bronze behind American champion Paul Hamm. The International Gymnastics Federation ruled that Yang’s start value should have been a tenth higher but did not change the results (the Americans also noted that Yang was not penalized two tenths during his routine for having too many hangs). Nevertheless, FIG president Bruno Grandi then wrote Hamm a letter urging him to give the gold medal to Yang. A final South Korean appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was denied, in part because the original protest was filed too late. Hamm remains the gold medalist. Later in the Athens Games, a booing crowd led to a score upgrade for Russian Alexei Nemov in the high bar final. Hamm was the next man up who had to wait nearly 10 minutes before the episode ended. Hamm ultimately earned silver, losing a tiebrearker to Italian Igor Cassina.

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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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Winter Olympic medalists Apolo Ohno, Tanith White join NBC’s Rio team

Apolo Ohno, Tanith White
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Apolo Ohno, the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian with eight medals, and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith White will serve as NBC sportsdesk reporters at the Rio Games.

Ohno, a short track speed skating Olympian in 2002, 2006 and 2010, will cover his third straight Olympics for NBC. He served as a sportsdesk reporter at London 2012 and as a short track analyst at Sochi 2014.

White, an ice dance Olympian in 2006 and 2010, will cover her second straight Olympics for NBC. She was a sportsdesk reporter at Sochi 2014.

Ohno and White will report at various venues and locations and contribute to features on multiple platforms in Rio, including on “The Olympic Zone” – a 30-minute nightly show on NBC affiliates.

Fellow Winter Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir will also cover the Rio Games for NBC, exploring the culture, sights and sounds and fashion of the host city.

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