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

Former Olympian Apolo Ohno
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.”

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.”

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.”

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.