Short track speed skating champion, Apolo Ohno gained fame as a young skater. He later became the most decorated American Olympian at the Winter Olympics with eight medals. Apolo and Andy talk about his legendary feats on the ice as well as Apolo’s second act and what he’s doing to support fellow athletes.
“I played all traditional American stick and ball sports, I did swimming, you name it I’ve tried it all, not really by choice, but merely because my father and I grew up in a single-parent household,” Apolo said. “My father raised me my entire life. My father had to work all day and he needs some type of positive activities that he can place his son into insistently. Sport was my outlet to really direct and try to funnel all that excess energy.”
Despite finding early success in swimming, Apolo knew the sport wasn’t for him. He recalls seeing speed skating for the first time in the 1992 Olympics and immediately falling in love with the sport. Apolo grew up in Seattle and says his father used to drive him to Vancouver, BC to practice.
“That sport was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was fast, it was exhilarating. It was really volatile. It was crazy. And at the time, they looked like they were superhero figures. To me, there was like no difference between these athletes leaning over these impossible angles, wearing those samurai swords on their feet,” Apolo said. “I fell in love almost instantly and I had a really fast learning process. I could see someone effectively skating. I thought internally, I could copy that right away. I could mimic what I saw. I’ve learned very well through the visual process. I learned by watching those athletes in Canada, and then kind of replicating what I saw in my head and visualizing that and then putting that expression onto the ice.”
After a storybook career, Apolo retired in 2010 with two gold, two silver, and four bronze medals. He’s been open about the hurdles athletes face after retirement and recently appeared in “Weight of Gold,” an HBO Sports documentary about the mental health challenges Olympic athletes face.
“The real impetus of how I got involved with the project was because two of my friends, Sasha Cohen, the figure skater, and Jeremy Bloom, the NFL athlete, who also made the Olympic team in downhill moguls freestyle. I was chatting with them and talking about the incredibly difficult transition that all of us face, particularly in the Olympic realm,” Apolo said. “There was really a kind of a mentality of an Olympic athlete, you train toughness on the exterior and whatever you’re managing, you hold that inside you. There was no talk of vulnerability to strength, there was no talk of gratitude and empathy. And as we know and learn so much more about that process as an athlete and beyond when you transition out of that Olympic base, what I call the ‘Great Divorce’ from your first true love into the next path. That was a visceral experience.”
In addition to his participation in the “Weight of Gold,” Apolo has been an advocate for mental health and recently tweeted in support of Naomi Osaka’s decision to prioritize her mental health.
“I think that the conversation to move the needle forward is really important. We know how important mental health is in our day-to-day lives and sport is no different. It’s one of those things where it is the ultimate expression of the physicality of a human being, but also showcases the power of the mind to overcome and be disciplined, and to have the routines and all these great attributes that build character. That’s why we love sports. Behind the curtain, I think there’s another story to be told.”
After retiring from skating in 2010, Apolo reinvented himself and found his passion by helping others reach their potential. Apolo has made a second career for himself as an entrepreneur and reaches people as a public speaker and author. In his forthcoming book, “Hard Pivot,” Apolo explores the idea of reinvention and how people can embrace life changes.
“The book is called Hard Pivot. It’s about reinvention, adaptation, loss of identity, and learning to find and thrive and survive throughout a very chaotic, disruptive world. It’s dedicated to anyone who would be struggling with reinvention, who’s looking for a new path, who seeks to go deeper, I think internally, and question if the current path that they are on is actually beneficial to their overall wealth, mentally, physically, financially, etc. It really has been a part of everything that I stand for, everything that I believe in. It provides some things that I’ve found to help me throughout this redefining process as we seek to transform ourselves from 1.0 into 2.0.”
Hear more from Apolo, including his memories of Kobe Bryant, and other exclusive memories. Listen to the full Legends Of Sport podcast. Watch the video of the podcast on the @legendsofsport YouTube channel.