PyeongChang 2018: Former Olympian Apolo Ohno Recalls His Fierce Rivalry With South Korean Speed Skaters

Kellie Freeze
Mark Hill/NBC

'I was [once] the second most-hated person in Korea,' Apolo Ohno, now an NBC speed skating analyst, reveals with a laugh.

Eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — not as a competitor, but as NBC’s short track speed skating analyst, and to present a series of feature reports on South Korean culture.

“I’ve competed there, I’ve lived there, I’ve trained there, I’ve had Korean coaches,” Ohno says.

And, after a controversial finish at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Ohno found himself the subject of ire from that nation. “I was the second most-hated person in Korea,” he recalls with a laugh. “Second. No. 1 was Osama bin Laden. Yeah. That’s not a joke. … In 2003, they started making toilet paper with my face on it. I did not receive any royalties from that.”

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But today, Ohno has a great love for South Korea and great respect for the country’s short track skating fanaticism.

“It’s their marquee sport for the Winter Olympics,” he explains. “They take it very seriously. I respect the passion. I respect the hard work and dedication their athletes give and how good they are. Without them, I never would have reached the levels of performance that I was at. One in the same, we needed each other, and it made for a great story.”

But Ohno understands the media scrutiny that he faced was necessary to elevate his sport.

“Without the media, there would be no coverage of short track speed-skating,” he concedes. “I think media is absolutely critical for all sports, whether it’s Winter Olympics or Summer, and especially for the ones that are obscure that people don’t watch on a daily basis. We are a stick-and-ball country. We watch basketball, football, baseball. Short track speed-skating is not something that people in L.A. do, or people in Florida.”

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And as the Olympic cycle brings renewed attention to his sport, Ohno says he is glad to, once again, be a part of the action.

“I’m excited to kind of bring my voice to the forefront and hopefully give the viewers an inside look into such a crazy, obscure sport where these athletes, wearing Superman outfits, skate around an ice rink going 35, 40 miles an hour, leaning over at these impossible angles. I believe that this Olympics event at the center of the excitement will be short track speed-skating.”

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Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang airs Thursday, Feb. 8, through Sunday, Feb. 25, on the networks of NBCUniversal. Opening ceremony airs Friday, Feb. 9, on NBC; short track speed skating coverage airs Feb. 10-22.

Click here for a complete list of NBC networks coverage.

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