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Monday, December 12, 2005
Updated: December 13, 5:54 PM ET
Ohno fastest at national short track championships

Associated Press

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Apolo Anton Ohno was a bit nervous about the make-or-break nature of the U.S. short track championships.
Apolo Anton Ohno was the fastest man on the track Monday.

Not to worry.

Scooting around an indoor hockey rink in Michigan's frigid Upper Peninsula, his famous soul patch nearly scraping the ice, Ohno was the fastest skater in both time trials in the national championships Monday night, the first step toward making the American Olympic team.

Ohno clocked a nine-lap time of 1 minute, 25.114 seconds, nearly lapping the skater he was paired with and putting him more than 2 seconds ahead of the next-fastest finisher. He returned in the evening to break his own U.S. record in the four-lap trial at 37.156.

"You've got to be consistent and safe," Ohno said. "My goal is to qualify for every single event in the Games. If I do that, I'll be happy."

The real racing begins Tuesday night, with the top 16 men and women moving on to three days of precarious, head-to-head heats that will determine the U.S. team for Turin.

Shani Davis -- next to Ohno, the most compelling storyline in these championships -- got off to a disappointing start in his bid for a historic double. He wants to be the first American to skate on both the long and short track teams in the same Olympics.

Davis was seventh in the nine-lap trial and eighth in the four-lapper, giving him only 1.5 points on Day 1. That left him seventh in the overall standings, with a couple of skaters to overtake if he's going the make the five-man Olympic team.

Davis stormed past reporters after both races, saying he wouldn't talk with the media until Friday -- the final day of the meet.

"He's a little upset," said Davis' coach, Bob Fenn.

On the women's side, rising star Kim Hyo-jung duplicated Ohno by taking first in both time trials.

The 17-year-old Kim, a native of short track hotbed South Korea who now lives in Southern California, won the four-lap trial in 40.429 and the nine-lapper in 1:32.155 -- both American records. Allison Baver was second in both events.

"She has set the bar," said Derrick Campbell, managing director of the U.S. short track program. "She has improved so much with her racing skills and where to be."

The idea of Ohno not being at the Olympics seems rather farfetched after his breakthrough performance at the 2002 Games.

The swath of hair beneath his lower lip spawned a fashion craze in Salt Lake City -- especially after he won gold and silver medals in dramatic fashion. He still has the flowing brown locks, which elicit squeals from his young female fans and are held in place with a variety of exotic bandannas.

Several Olympic sports, including speedskating's long-track cousin, have revised the way their teams are picked so that a wider range of performances factor into the decision.

Not short track, which uses its four-day national championships to decide the team. Given the random nature of the sport, which features plenty of falls and frequent disqualifications, no one can take an Olympic spot for granted.

Ohno admitted to being somewhat jittery about the process.

"Sure, a little bit," he said. "Anything can happen. You've just got to be ready for it."

While saying he was a bit disappointed with his nine-lap performance, Ohno breezed to victory in both time trials to earn the maximum 34 points on the first day.

Alex Izykowski and 2002 Olympian J.P Kepka were tied for second with 14.5 points, followed by two-time Olympian Rusty Smith with 13.

Farther back was Davis, already assured of an Olympic spot in traditional speedskating but more of a long shot in short track. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he hardly has the prototype build for the tight turns and frequent passing.

Ohno, for instance, is just 5-8 -- barely coming to Davis' shoulders when the close friends stand side by side. Shorter skaters can get lower to the ice and pass more easily in the tight confines of the 200-foot-long rink.

Davis was nearly 3½ seconds behind Ohno in the nine-lap trial and almost 1{ seconds off the winner's pace over four laps. In the point standings, he's also trailing Anthony Lobello (5) and Travis Jayner (3).

Kim has the 34-point maximum, followed by Baver with 21. Derrick Kimberly (13) was the only other female skater in double figures.

Amy Peterson, coming out of retirement at 34 in an attempt to make her sixth Olympic team, got off to a sluggish start. She was 10th-fastest in the nine-lap trial, but improved to fifth in the four-lap run.

"Hopefully I'll get better as the days go on," said Peterson, who was seventh in the overall standings with 2.5 points.