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Saturday, February 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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South Koreans hold Ohno to bronze in 1,000 meter short track

TURIN, Italy — The South Koreans waited four years and ganged up on Apolo Anton Ohno, dropping the American star to an Olympic bronze medal today in 1,000-meter short track speedskating.

Ahn Hyun-Soo won his second gold medal of these games and teammate Lee Ho-Suk took the silver — getting by Ohno with a brilliant pass on the next-to-last turn.

"I have a lot of experience competing against Ohno from years back, and it really helped," Ahn said through an interpreter.

The other American, Rusty Smith, finished fourth. China's Li Ye was fifth.

Ohno was hot on Ahn's trail in the closing laps, with Lee in third. Lee darted out near the padded wall to get a better angle on Ohno, cutting in on the American to take second.

"I sped up," Lee said, also through an interpreter. "I was going for Ohno, but more than that, I was going for the win."

As Ohno crossed the line, he threw up his hands. Known as one of the toughest skaters to pass, he seemed to say, "Oh well, he beat me."

"That was like a `Wow, couldn't believe it,'" he said. "It was ... like, `Man, there was no room to move.' That was kind of my emotion."

The race was skated cleanly, with none of the crashes, pratfalls or disqualifications that make short track such a wacky sport.

"There was a couple of opportunities for me to move up on Ahn," Ohno said. "They were just skating so tight and any type of move would have probably resulted in disqualification. I didn't want to risk it."

Smith's presence gave Ohno a teammate in the race, but other than taking the early lead, Smith never challenged the South Koreans or Ohno.

"You have to give it to them," Smith said about Ahn and Lee. "They're on top of their game, but it's not like we're off by a lot. You're talking about minor, minor things."

The bronze gave Ohno a complete set of Olympic medals. In 2002, he won a disputed gold in the 1,500 over another South Korean skater and took silver in the 1,000.

In his first event earlier in the week, Ohno stumbled while attempting a bold pass on the leader in the 1,500 and failed to get out of the semifinals. Ahn won the 1,500 and Lee finished second.

"For me to be able to bounce back from that 1,500 is pretty big mentally," Ohno said.

The 1,000 became famous four years ago, when a massive pileup left four skaters sprawled on the ice. Ohno was one of them, but he managed to crawl across the line for second.

China's Li Jiajun caught his skate on Ohno's while trying to pass and spun out. That sent Ohno sliding into Ahn, and both went down, wiping out Mathieu Turcotte of Canada. And that, in turn, cleared the ice for Steven Bradbury to win Australia's first gold at a Winter Games. Li was disqualified and Ahn finished fourth. Li Jiajun, the world record holder, didn't make the final this time.

Four years later, the results were quite different.

If any hard feelings remained from 2002, they disappeared during the bouquet presentation. Wearing a blue USA T-shirt, a blue bandanna and a large gold chain, Ohno stepped on the podium to receive his flowers.

Ahn then invited Lee and Ohno to share the top spot with him. The three put their arms around each other, and Ohno shook hands with both his rivals.

"This is something they thrive on," Ohno said. "The South Koreans have always been very strong."

South Korea's women were equally dominant in the 1,500.

Jin Sun-yu and Choi Eun-kyung finished 1-2, and South Korea missed out on a medals sweep when Byun Chun-sa was disqualified for impeding.

China's Wang Meng was awarded the bronze following Byun's disqualification. Wang won gold in the women's 500.

American Allison Baver, Ohno's girlfriend, didn't advance from the semifinals. Her teammate, Kim Hyo-jung, was third in the consolation final.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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