Apolo Ohno, the most decorated American short-track speed skater in Winter Olympic history, may also solidify his reputation as the most “ungentlemanly sportsman” in South Korea.
While his pictures showed up on the front pages of a handful of U.S. newspapers, he may not know that his name was on the front pages of the most, if not all, South Korean newspapers on the same day.
In America, he is famous. In South Korea he is notorious.
Lee Jung-su, the South Korean gold winner at the men's 1,500-meter short-track, accused Ohno of being “unqualified” to share the same awarding podium, publicly criticizing Ohno’s rough play that was reportedly often done in a subtle manner and therefore went unnoticed in the eyes of the referees.
“Ohno didn’t deserve to stand on the same medal podium,” Lee said, Yonhap News Agency reported.
Lee was commenting on the manner Ohno played in the same match where the latter earned the silver by windfall when two other South Korean gold favorites -- Sung Si-bak and Lee Ho-suk -- crashed into each other in their final stretch toward the finish. Ohno was trailing behind them.
“Okay, it’s technically not a foul play as long as the referees didn’t notice. But (Ohno) used his arms too aggressively today.”
Lee fumed: “I was so enraged that it was difficult for me to contain myself even as I was doing a winner’s ceremony.”
Among South Koreans, Ohno’s name is synonymous to an “ungentlemanly athlete” with a good reason.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, in the 1500 m race, Ohno won the gold medal, with a time of 2:18.541. During the 1500 m final race, South Korean Kim Dong-Sung was actually first across the finish line, but was disqualified for blocking Ohno, in what is called “cross tracking.”
Ohno was in second place with three laps remaining, and on his third attempt to pass on the final lap, Kim drifted slightly to the inside where Ohno raised his arms and came out of his crouch to signal that he was blocked.
Fourth-place finisher of the same race, Fabio Carta of Italy, showed his disagreement with the judge’s decision, saying that it was "absurd that the Korean was disqualified."
The disqualification upset South Korean supporters, many of whom directed their anger at Ohno.
The incident so enraged Koreans that some say he contributed to instigating anti-American sentiment in South Korea.