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Apolo Ohno, Kim Dong-Sung

In 1988, South Korea hosted its first Olympics in Seoul. The host nation claimed 33 medals -- still its highest mark in one Games -- showing off its athletic prowess to the world. South Korea has won at least 21 medals in every Summer Olympics since.

In 1988, South Korea had zero Winter Olympics medals. Not just that year -- ever. But that would soon change. The 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, introduced short-track speedskating to the Games. South Korea won three medals -- two gold -- that year and hasn't looked back. Its 42 short-track medals lead all nations, with China a distant second at 30.

That number would be even higher if it were not for the efforts of one particular individual: Apolo Anton Ohno. With eight medals in three Olympics from 2002-2010, Ohno is tied for the most medals ever in short track.

And he knows how wild the scene is going to be in PyeongChang.

"I think the short-track event is going to be the 'hot ticket' out of the entire Olympic Games," Ohno says. "I've always thought it would be. It should be. Obviously, hockey and figure skating are wildly popular. Skiing is incredible. But short track to Korea is their pride and joy. They've won the most medals, they're so incredibly dominant and I can't wait to commentate on it. I think the energy inside that arena is going to be absolutely incredible."

Ohno has had a complicated history with South Korea. He was raised by a single Japanese-born father and was greatly influenced by Asian culture as a youth. However, Ohno became Public Enemy No. 1 in South Korea after winning gold in the 1,500 meters at the 2002 Olympics. Ohno, in second place on the final lap, attempted to pass leader Kim Dong-Sung of South Korea. Dong-Sung drifted to the inside, Ohno threw up his hands and Dong-Sung was disqualified for impeding. The South Korean team appealed to the IOC, to no avail.

In a very 2002 moment, the USOC servers actually had to be shut down due to more than 16,000 angry emails from South Koreans.

That summer, when South Korea played the United States in the group stage at the World Cup in Daegu (South Korea and Japan were co-host nations), South Koreans players celebrated a goal by mocking Ohno's theatrics on the rink.

Ohno skipped a 2003 World Cup race in South Korea due to concerns for his safety. He did go to Seoul in 2005 and was met at the airport by 100 police officers in riot gear.

"It was just some people manifesting this image of me and anti-American sentiment," Ohno said in the lead-up to the 2006 Olympics in Torino. "I was really bothered by it. I grew up around Asian cultures. I have a lot of friends who are Korean. I couldn't understand it.'"

Just this past summer, Ohno told The Salt Lake Tribune, "I was the second-most hated person in Korea. Second. No. 1 was Osama Bin Laden. That's not a joke."

For the most part, the air was cleared at the 2006 Games. Ohno's fellow competitors made sure to praise his character, making him a competitive rival, but not a political one. In 2007, Ohno spent time training in South Korea, helping him stablize his relationship overseas. He is still sometimes referred to as "The King of Fouls," and as recently as 2010, a Korean company was selling Ohno toilet paper. But Ohno has mostly subdued the 2002 turmoil.  

"I've had Korean coaches and Chinese coaches," Ohno says. "I went and lived in Korea, trained, ate, slept and studied exactly like the Korean athletes did. I have a lot of business partners in Korea. I love Korean people and food.

"But I can definitely tell you that there was a time where it was very different for me."

South Koreans will be paying top dollar to see their heroes compete at home on the grandest stage for the first time. And it won't just be the South Koreans who get celebrity treatments. While Americans may only focus on short-track speedskaters every four years, the South Koreans know the sport's stars. Ohno can attest to his treatment in 2007.

"It was like I literally was Brad Pitt walking down the street," Ohno says of appearing in South Korea during his peak. "It was insane -- people waiting in the airport, people waiting in the hotel for hours, waiting overnight."

Unlike any South Korean skater, Ohno has already experienced competing in front of his own flag, doing so in Salt Lake City in 2002.

"I had all of the hometown crowd and Americans cheering for me and chanting my name and an energy, I just can't describe it," he says. "I've been to World Cups before for soccer, I've been to Super Bowls and there is nothing like the Olympic Games, and I can wholeheartedly say that. There's something inherently special and different about it that you just have to go and experience. These Games are really going to showcase the love and the passion of the Korean people and the love they have for the sport. I think it's a long time coming.

"There's like a collective nationalism, pride and respect that Koreans have for one another, especially when it comes to sport. It's actually interesting to watch. It's very unique to South Korea."

For Ohno, it will be fun to be at a South Korea Olympics in 2018.

Would it have been a touch more hostile in 2006? Perhaps.

Apolo Ohno, Lee Jung-Su

Broadcasting Duties

For the second straight Olympics, Ohno will serve as an analyst for short-track competition on NBC. (He also reported for NBC during the 2012 Summer Olympics).

"To explain what it's like to be gliding around the ice 30 miles per hour or at the Opening Ceremonies, where tens of thousands of people are screaming for their countrymen, and the energy, it's a very difficult experience to put into words," Ohno says.

Ohno admits that in 2014 he rode a confusing swing of emotions he was not used to at the Olympics.

"It was weird in the fact that during the races, my adrenaline and heart rate still shoots up, my pupils probably dilate as if I'm on the ice," he says. "The thing is, I'm not, so instead of concentrating on my goal, I now have to explain other athletes' mindsets, what are they going through. It's slightly weird."

Ohno is still the only U.S. male to win gold in short track. He has eight of the 11 total men's short-track medals for his country (including relay medals). Without Ohno in 2014, Team USA only claimed one short-track medal -- men's or women's -- a silver in the 5,000-meter men's relay.

"It's a blend of senior and junior athletes," Ohno says of the 2018 roster. "It's essentially an entirely new team on the men's side. On the women's side, Lana Gehring and Maame Biney. ... Biney is perhaps the most exciting story that we've seen on the short-track speedskating women's side in 20 years. And you'll see a lot about her, her story, her father and their journey. And just her energy and smile is so infectious. I'm excited to watch her. I think she’s a wild card. On the men's side, J.R. [Celski] is a veteran. This will be his third Olympic Games. He's really experienced. He's had a tough couple years of performances, but you never know, he may be able to pull it together, and if he does, he'll be a real threat to medal."

Biney, 17, who was born in Ghana, will become the second African-born U.S. Winter Olympian. Biathlete Dan Westover competed in 1998.

Ohno will also be going to PyeongChang as a spokesperson for Hershey's Gold and is starring in an ongoing video series for the special candy bar. Hershey's is an official sponsor of the USOC.

Ohno On Larry Nassar

While most of Ohno's Olympic focus has been on the Winter Games, he has had a chance to mingle with the Summer Olympics community and has met many American gymnasts of the past two decades. Ohno offered this statement regarding Larry Nassar:

"It's really tough. Those gymnastics girls are so strong and it broke my heart. It happened for so long and it's outrageous. I really commend a lot of those young ladies for coming forward. I can only imagine how difficult and painful that might be. But as a fellow Olympic brother, I support them and I may never understand the pain and the hurt that they have gone through, but everyone believes in the future, the strength, and the psychology of someone's mental health, and when someone damages that, at such a vulnerable age, it's really damning. I hope that the sport can now begin to heal and those girls can truly begin to heal. It's tough. When I heard that it broke my heart, like, 'What the hell? Why is this still happening?'"

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