Eight-time Olympic Medalist Apolo Ohno to Speak Here Tuesday

Apolo Ohno, a short-track skater who became the most-decorated U.S. Winter Olympian in history, will speak on “Always Give 100 Percent” in an 8 p.m. lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 21, in the Woulfe Alumni Hall of the Anderson Student Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

Apolo Ohno

Ohno’s talk, which will be the first major lecture held in the new student center’s Woulfe Alumni Hall, is sponsored by St. Thomas’ University Lectures Committee.

The lecture is free and St. Thomas students, staff and faculty will be seated first. Two lines will form outside the hall. One line will be for those with a current and valid St. Thomas ID; a second line will be for those who do not have a St. Thomas ID. Those in the St. Thomas line will be admitted first. Those in the non-St. Thomas line will be admitted only if space is still available. Woulfe Hall is larger than the auditorium in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center and seats 780.

In his lecture, Ohno will discuss his journey from a rambunctious and rule-breaking teenager to an Olympic gold medalist. His anecdotes emphasize the importance of finding one’s path, committing to it, and reaping the benefits of hard work.

“There has to be a vision, a dream, a plan,” he said. “Then you chase that with everything you’ve got.”

The philosophy of always giving 100 percent of yourself was instilled in Ohno by his father, and the skater says there are no shortcuts to success. Ohno, whose father is Japanese, also discusses his identity as an Asian-American.

Apolo Ohno

Ohno began his career at age 14 and in less than two years became the best short-track skater in the United States. He claimed his first overall title at the U.S. Championships and his early success made him a likely candidate to make the 1998 U.S. Olympic team. He struggled with his fitness, however, and finished 16th at the trials. When he didn’t make the team, he was at a crossroads and needed to decide if he wanted to continue skating.

Ohno committed himself to making the 2002 Olympic squad and by the 2000-2001 season he was one of the world’s best skaters. The Seattle native won World Cup titles in the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events, which gave him the overall crown and made him the first American to win a World Cup title at any distance.

He made the 2002 U.S. team and won Olympic gold at Salt Lake City in the 1,500-meter and silver in the 1,000-meter. Four years and three more World Cup titles later, he captured two Olympic bronze medals and his second gold. By the end of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, he had skated to a career total of eight Winter Olympic medals, the most for any U.S. athlete.

Off the ice, Ohno and partner Julianne Hough also brought home the gold in the 2007 fourth season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

Ohno talks about his struggles and success in his book Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday. In addition to insights on the intensity of competition and mental toughness, the book is a portrait of a father-and-son relationship.

By coincidence, the only Olympic medalist who attended St. Thomas also was a speed skater. Like Ohno, Bob Fitzgerald from south Minneapolis was winning national skating titles as a teen.  But a spinal injury suffered while in pilot training during World War II brought a painful end to Fitzgerald’s military career. For awhile, he thought he’d never skate again. You can read about his comeback in this 1996 story published in St. Thomas magazine.

Below, you can watch Ohno skating in a 2009 World Cup semi-final, and his final "Dancing with the Stars" performance with Julianne Hough in June 2007.