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Dancing With Apolo

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Already an Olympic athlete, short track speed skater Apolo Ohno shows he’s up for a new challenge.

Courtesy of ABC
Apolo Ohno and partner Julianne Hough wow the crowd on Monday as they dance the Cha Cha to “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”

He hasn’t yet traded in his speed skates for dancing shoes entirely, but two-time Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno is giving dancing a go on the fourth season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which premiered Monday.

For up to 10 weeks, Ohno, 24, will compete against such notable figures as NBA-great Clyde Drexler, former ’NSYNCmember Joey Fatone, TV/radio personality Leeza Gibbons and activist Heather Mills, the estranged wife of former Beatles member Paul McCartney, among others.

Ohno and his professional dancing partner, Julianne Hough, 18, danced the Cha on Monday night with a chemistry that would be expected of dancers who have spent years together. They’ve known each other for just four weeks.

Before the show, Ohno took time out of his already packed schedule to speak with The Rafu Shimpo about everything from “Dancing With the Stars” to eat­ing sushi.

RAFU: What has training for “Danc­ing With the Stars” been like?

OHNO: I’m having lots of fun and challenging myself, while also bringing awareness to my sport and the Olympic movement. It’s much harder than I an­ticipated it would be. There are so many rules and guidelines for ballroom and Latin dancing. It’s all very technical. When you watch someone dance, you have no idea how many hours they put into just learning how to stand.

RAFU: So has Julianne been a good teacher?

OHNO: Working with Julianne has been great. She’s a great teacher! She’s been struggling to keep up with my schedule because I’m all over the place, so lately she’s been traveling with me too. She went with me to Cleveland for the 2007 National Championships, and most recently, to Milan.

RAFU: Aside from being an Olym­pic athlete and appearing on “Dancing With the Stars,” aren’t you also a college student? How do you manage so many commitments?

OHNO: I’m a part-time student at the University of Colorado. I try to fit in as many classes as can. It’s very hard with training for my sport. That in itself is a full-time job. Plus I’m juggling six hours a day with “Dancing With the Stars.” I’m very scheduled. It takes dis­cipline to not waste time. Unfortunately, there’s no time for YouTube surfing for me. But I have seen that there are actually a few MySpace sites of people pretending to be me. There’s this one guy who’s been doing it for a while. He has like 11,000 friends!

RAFU: How do you feel about that?

OHNO: I think it’s hilarious!

RAFU: I heard your father, Yuki, raised you as a single parent. Has he played the biggest role in your life?

OHNO: Yeah. He has played a piv­otal role in my life, and he still does. He’s my biggest supporter. He’s the best, and he saved me when was very young from a lot of bad decisions I was going to make because he knew what was best.

RAFU: Growing up as a hapa kid, did you have a difficult time with iden­tity, or did you/do you mainly identify with JA culture?

OHNO: Fortunately, it was really nice where grew up (Seattle). I had a large diverse group of people around me, so got to experience culture at a young age. And then I started traveling at age 14 to see those places. I’m very proud of being JA. My grandmother still lives in Japan, and I try to visit her every year. It’s great! One day, I’d love to live in Japan for a period of time.

RAFU: Do you have a favorite Japa­nese food then?

OHNO: My favorite Japanese food would have to be really, really good sushi. I can’t turn that down. Or for something fast, handmade soba. Cold soba with wasabi is the best!

RAFU: What’s a typical day like for you?

OHNO: It’s hard to give an example of a day because it’s different every day. When I’m training, it’s different than in the off-season. I try to get up, workout, do what I’ve got to do. I‘m also eating all day, and need eight to eight and-a-half hours of sleep everyday. As long as getting that, everything is OK.

RAFU: With your busy schedule and all the traveling you have to do, it sounds like a lonely life.

OHNO: It’s hard. I have a very close, select group of friends because it’s just very hard traveling all around and being so busy. I wouldn’t say it gets lonely, but it’s hard to keep in touch with people. But that’s a reality for anybody who is busy.

RAFU: Still, what a crazy life!

OHNO: This has been my life since was 14. I love it though! I’ve been blessed to have a gift for this sport (short track speed skating) and to be able to communicate with people by being myself. I am lucky to have these opportunities come my way.

RAFU: So have to ask, is the soul patch here to stay?

OHNO: (laughs) I think so. I know many guys have it, but for some reason, people seem to associate it with me, so I can’t shave it off yet…unless people make a big fuss about it!

RAFU: So, do you have a strategy for winning over the judges and winning “Dancing With the Stars”?

OHNO: I want to go out there and look like I know how to dance, and have people say, ‘Wow! He can dance!’ That’d be really cool. I’m just going to go out there and be me—not anybody else. And hopefully they’ll like it. You know, keep it real!

Associated Press
Ohno, who won the bronze medal, stands with Canadian Charles Hamelin, who won the silver, and South Korean Ahn Hyun Soo, who won the gold, at the World Championships in Milan, Italy on Sunday, March 11.

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