VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Boxed out by the South Koreans, with all hope of a medal appearing lost, Apolo Anton Ohno could only count on the freakishness of short track to pull it out.
When two skaters ahead of him went sliding into the padding, Ohno stuck his skate across the line and Olympic medal No. 6 was his.
The American who made the soul patch fashionable – even the women were wearin' em – pulled out a silver in the 1,500-meter final when two South Koreans took each other out on the final turn, allowing Ohno to tie Bonnie Blair for most medals won by a U.S. Winter Olympian.
Korea still got the gold, which went to Lee Jung-su, out front and out of the trouble that gobbled up his teammates. But Ohno had no complaints about being the runner-up, especially when he was fourth with just a few meters to go. It didn't hurt to see 19-year-old American teammate J.R. Celski right behind, taking bronze in his first major event since a gruesome crash at the U.S. trials.
Ohno, who now has two medals of each color, moved past Eric Heiden as the most decorated American male at the Winter Games and also claimed the mark all to himself for most short track medals since the wild-and-wooly sport joined the Olympic program in 1992.
Ohno grabbed an American flag, though he had to put it under one arm when he held up his fingers for the crowd – all five on the left hand and another on the right.
Make it six, and he has three more events at the Vancouver Games to pass Blair.
Ohno eliminated Canadian favorite Charles Hamelin in the semifinals with a daring inside move, drawing groans from many of the red-clad fans in the packed house of 14,200 at Pacific Coliseum. But there were still plenty of red, white and blue cheering on the 27-year-old American, who is practically a hometown favorite at these games.
Vancouver is just a three-hour drive north of suburban Seattle, where Ohno was born and raised by a single father, getting his start in skating with wheels under his feet rather than blades.
When he saw short track for the first time at the Olympics, Ohno decided that's what he wanted to do. Clearly, the ice suited him just fine.
No sport is more unpredictable than short track, either.
Ohno won his first medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games when a crash on the final turn took out every skater but one, Australia's Steven Bradbury, who coasted across the line as perhaps the flukiest gold medalist ever. Ohno, his leg gashed by a skate blade, crawled across the line for a silver.
Talk about symmetry.
Ohno's sixth medal was claimed under similar circumstances, though this time he didn't go down. The powerful South Koreans put three skaters in the final, and it looked as though they would sweep the medals when all of them got ahead of Ohno on the final lap.
Lee was out front and avoided trouble. But Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak got tangled up and slid into the padded barrier, their medal hopes dashed in a heap. Ohno skated right on by, as did Celski.