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Apolo Ohno skates into Olympic broadcasting spotlight

By Rick Bentley Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES – NBC has pulled together a small army of 89 commentators who will help provide more than 2,400 hours of coverage of the XXIII Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com.

The roster of commentators includes Olympians who have won a combined 46 Olympic medals (14 gold, 19 silver and 13 bronze). They have taken home so much Olympic hardware that the broadcast team would have placed first in the 2014 Sochi Olympics medal count ahead of Russia, Team USA and Norway.

Among the past Olympians on the broadcast team is eight-time U.S. Olympic short track speed skating medalist Apolo Ohno, who hails from Federal Way. His last Olympics as a competitor was in 2010 in Vancouver, where he took home a silver medal in men’s 1500m plus bronze medals in men’s 1000m and men’s 5000m relay.

If NBC had not hired him, Ohno still would have kept a close eye on what happens this year.

“Speed skating has given me so much and I’m glad to still be connected with the games. I love the sport of short track speed skating and would have watched religiously watched all of the competitions,” Ohno says. “Being on the other side of the lens is kind of fun and interesting.

“It also gives me a chance to talk about things that we didn’t hear talked about us when I was competing. No matter what I am doing in my life, the Olympics is part of my bloodline. I am happy to be part of the NBC Olympic family.”

Ohno sees his job as being the person to deliver an enthusiasm and passion for the sport while also presenting technical knowledge. The other elements he will examine have to do with the personal stories of the competitors.

“No matter what sport it is, everyone has kind of their own trials and tribulations they’ve gone through. Some kind of sacrifice along the way that is more than just that one specific athlete,” Ohno says. “And with the global world being so connected, I have access to all these different athletes and their stories about why they’re competing, what they’re doing, and what their real hopes and dreams are.”

What Ohno also will be watching closely is how well a very young USA team of speed skaters does in this largest of all venues for his sport when it comes to chasing their hopes and dreams. He knows what that’s like, as Ohno was only 20 when he competed in his first Olympics where he two home a gold and silver during the games in Salt Lake City. He’s relatively certain he could have made the team for the 2014 Games and even been part of this year’s squad. But, Ohno doesn’t regret his decision to retire.

What Ohno decided was that it was time to make a change and find the next big challenge in his life. So far that has meant writing a book, becoming a philanthropist and winning the fourth season of “Dancing with the Stars.” His days of skating are behind him, and now he’s taking on the job of being one of the team reporting on the games. He wants to bring what he learned facing all of the journalists during his years competing to how he handles his reporting duties.

“Every Olympic athlete views media as a distraction. That’s the reality,” Ohno says. “They would rather just be focused on doing what they do. Later on in my career, I understood that without the media there would be no coverage of short-track speed skating.

“So, I welcomed the press with open arms, smiled and gave them my best as they did to me. Without that, our sport would be miniscule and stay unheard of and unknown. We are a stick-and-ball country where everyone watches basketball, football, baseball.”

Ohno’s point of view is media is critical for all sports, but especially those that don’t tend to get a lot of coverage outside the Olympics.

Having Ohno as part of the NBC broadcast team for the games originating from South Korea does take on a little broader scope than just talking about who skates the fastest. Over the years, some of Ohno’s most heated battles were with members of the Korean teams. There was a time when Ohno was the second most-hated person in Korea behind Osama bin Laden. Toilet paper was produced that had his face on it.

He’s heard all the talk about the politics of the rivalry, but for Ohno, it was always about trying to beat a very talented group of athletes from a country where speed skating is seen as their marquee sport.

“Political agendas always creep into the sporting world whether it’s 2018 or 1940. Sports is one of the few things that can cross all boundaries no matter what kind of issues countries are having,” Ohno says. “All I know is that without them, I would have never reached the level of performance that I was at. We needed each other and it made for a great story.”

Among the other Olympians handling broadcast duties for NBC includes: 2006 U.S. Olympic ice dance silver medalists Ben Agosto and Tanith White; four-time track and field medalist Ato Boldon; three-time U.S. Olympic speed skating medalist Joey Cheek; 2014 U.S. Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, 1984 U.S. Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton; 1998 U.S. Olympic figure skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski; and 1992 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi.

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