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Apolo Ohno (USA) Olympic Medal Shoot 2010©Getty Images 97142723

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Olympic Medal Photoshoot 2010©Getty Images

In the almost 10 years since Apolo Anton Ohno hung up his skates, the USA’s most decorated winter Olympian of all time has founded businesses, acted, hosted TV game shows, commentated, danced and much, much more. But even so, the eight-time Short Track Speed Skating Olympic medal winner openly admits that life off the track has been just as much of a challenge as on it.

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“It is like a great divorce,” Ohno laughs. “You have given everything to this one person, loved this person, learned everything from this person. It has taught you who you are and who you could be and as soon as you snap your fingers on day 18 of the Olympics it is a reality call of, ‘What is now? What is next? Do I have skill sets? What am I passionate about? Will I find anything as exciting and dynamic and variable as Short Track Speed Skating?’

Apolo Ohno (USA) WOG 2002©Getty Images 658303950

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©Getty Images

“And the answer is probably, ‘No, you won’t’. So, you have to replace that drive and intensity with something that is productive in order to carve your path and figure out how you can contribute to whatever career you are going into. It is an ongoing struggle. I don’t think anyone has it figured out per se. For me, it’s been very challenging in many respects but it has also been extremely rewarding.”

Apolo Ohno (USA) WOG 2010©Getty Images 97125846

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2010©Getty Images

It is a typically expansive and persuasive answer from Ohno, who called it a day on his phenomenal sporting career after picking up a silver and two bronze medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Always highly energetic and independent-minded, Ohno immediately threw himself into a smorgasbord of activities. But interestingly, there was, at least at first, just one emotion driving the appearances on TV show Dancing with the Stars (Ohno won season four), the entry into an Ironman competition and the starting of a nutritional-supplement business.

“I was definitely afraid of retiring in 2010 and then coming back in 2012 because I just couldn’t figure it out and that this (Short Track Speed Skating) was the only thing that made my heart beat,” Ohno reveals. “So, I desperately tried to do as many different activities as I could.

Apolo Ohno (USA) Encourages Kids to Lead a Healthy Life 2010©Getty Images 97590104

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) Encourages Kids to Lead a Healthy Life 2010©Getty Images

“I tried essentially to keep myself as busy as possible so I wouldn’t be thinking, ‘Should I come back? Can I come back? Do I have what it takes to come back?’ I didn’t want to have that. I wanted my decision to be final and to be OK with it. And I think, in the end, I am.”

The now 36-year-old is in fact about to head back to school, having recently been accepted on to an executive leadership course at the USA’s prestigious Wharton School of Business. But despite all the excitement and variety in his life right now – Ohno happily declares that life post-athletics is “definitely more interesting” – you cannot take Short Track out of a skater.

“When I commentate on races and give that color and texture my heart rate is still high. I feel like I care about the outcome as much as those on the ice,” says Ohno, who worked for US network NBC at both the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games.

“I am 10 years retired but even when I watch World Cups I can feel there is a shift in my focus and my energetic, physiological body as soon as I hear the gun go off.”

Apolo Ohno (USA) WOG 2002©Getty Images 658303952

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©Getty Images

It is perhaps not surprising. The precocious Ohno was, at 14 years old, the youngest-ever USA national Short Track Speed Skating champion, a title he would go on to win a further 11 times. As a teenager, he also became the youngest competitor ever to win an ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (in 1999) and the first USA skater to claim the overall ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating title (in 2001).

The young Ohno was so talented and driven that he arrived at his first Olympic Games in 2002 as the favorite for both the 1000m and 1500m titles, despite being just 19. And for 950m of the 1000m final, his first medal-winning opportunity of the Games, everything went exactly according to plan, but it turned out the sporting Gods had a different idea.

Apolo Ohno (USA) WOG 2002©Getty Images 1093209

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©Getty Images

“I was in first place, meters away (from the finish). I could see the finish line, taste it, I felt like I was about to win – maybe it was a moment of celebrating too early, maybe that was the reason all that happened. Who knows?’,” Ohno says of moment he and three other skaters reached out for glory only to crash into each other on the final bend leaving the path clear for Australia’s Steven Bradbury, a bystander half-a-lap behind the field, to skate past and grab the most unlikely of gold medals.

“At the time I was so flabbergasted, I had no idea what to think. I was in shock, completely confused. He was the most underdog of underdogs,” Ohno says, the incredulity still evident in his voice. “Some things in life are unexplainable and are just supposed to happen.”

This sentiment did turn somewhat in Ohno’s favor both a few days later and indeed four years later. First, he was awarded gold in the 1500m in Salt Lake City despite crossing the finishing line second, with Korean Kim Dong-Sung retrospectively disqualified for impediment. Subsequently, Ohno managed to throw off sickness, injury and a poor start to the Turin 2006 Games to claim an unexpected gold in his least favorite event, the 500m.

Apolo Ohno (USA) WOG 2006©AFP 56936988

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2006©AFP

For the skater, sporting matters came full circle at his third and final Olympic Games, with Vancouver 2010 providing him the perfect platform from which to embrace the next chapter of an extraordinary life.

“In the 2008/09 season I had really struggled internally. I’d had a lot of internal conversations – ‘Am I good enough? Am I getting too old? Am I too predictable?’ All of that forced me to reinvent myself as an athlete. I dropped a considerable amount of weight. I changed my training and nutrition and lifestyle to an extreme degree. So, I felt like I had beaten so many inner doubts and demons before I even raced and therefore all the medals were truly just icing on the cake,” says Ohno, who took silver in the 1500m and bronze in both the 1000m and 5000m Relay in Vancouver.

Apolo Ohno (USA) WCSTSS CHN 2009©Getty Images 90974586

Apolo Anton Ohno (USA) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (CHN) 2009©Getty Images

“It was my final Games but it also felt like it was my first Games.”