Apolo Ohno Has a Single Father Behind His Success

ByABC News via logo
June 18, 2006, 7:03 AM

June 18, 2006 — -- On Feb. 20, 2002, Apolo Ohno stood atop the Olympic medalists' platforms in Salt Lake City, clutching the gold medal for the 1500-meter speed skating event. In a sense, he was standing on top of the world.

As Apolo smiled and waved to the cheering crowd, his father, Yuki Ohno, watched from the stands, his face beaming with pride.

This was more than just a crowning moment of athletic achievement. It was an emotional milestone in a once turbulent relationship between a father and the son he raised alone as a single parent.

Apolo was just one when his mother left. Yuki, a hair stylist with his own small salon in downtown Seattle, was on his own.

"I felt, you know, 'Can I do this?' " Yuki recalled. "I wasn't feeling confident at all. I was scared."

Apolo was an energetic, rambunctious little boy, so his father tried to channel that energy into sports. Apolo first tried swimming, then roller-skating. When in-line skates came into fashion, he quickly changed to rollerblading -- competitive rollerblading.

"At age three, he had shown me his unusual talent, especially in his mind, to be very, very daring," Yuki said. "He shows lots of athleticism."

Apolo just thought going faster than anyone else was fun.

"He saw something in me that I didn't see in myself," Apolo said.

Yuki would work long days in his salon, then drive hundreds of miles to rollerblading competitions. He once drove all the way to Michigan from their Washington home. Apolo quickly proved to be an outstanding blader. But in his early teens, as puberty set in, Apolo's relationship with his father became strained.

The father and son who used to escape together on weekends to Iron Springs, a beach resort on Washington's Pacific coast, began to argue, frequently.

"I think there was probably a period of time where we would just fight a lot, a lot, just about anything," Apolo said. "It was mostly instigated by me, for sure."

Watching the 1998 Olympics on television, the father and son discovered speed skating -- on ice. Yuki bought his son a pair of sped skates and an Olympic champion was in the making. Skating on ice around a track at up to 35 miles an hour came naturally to Apolo, so naturally, he was soon invited to join the U.S. Junior Olympic Development Team in Lake Placid, N.Y.

There was just one problem.

"I was really angry, I didn't want to go," Apolo said.