Apolo Anton Ohno walked onto the field at T-Mobile Park.
He was greeted by loud applause as he found his spot next to a handful of Hall of Famers and Seattle sports legends. To his left were U.S. Soccer stars Kasey Keller and Michelle Akers; to his right was recently inducted Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Sikma.
That night, the group of athletes celebrated and honored Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Edgar Martinez in front of 33,895 Mariners fans.
Two days later, Ohno, an eight-time Winter Olympics medalist and Federal Way native, got a call informing him of his own Hall of Fame contention.
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “I was humbled. I was grateful. It felt amazing.”
A call from Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, informed Ohno he was a finalist for the Olympic Hall of Fame Class of 2019 — the first class to be inducted since 2012.
“Without the incredible love and support of my father, and those people who are in the Seattle-Northwest area, and all those who have believed in my talents before I even knew that I had talent, without them I would have never been able to achieve any of this,” Ohno said.
Ohno’s Olympic Hall of Fame nomination comes nearly 10 years after his retirement from Olympic short-track speedskating — a sport he helped bring into the national spotlight.
“I’m so blessed to be able to have such incredible people supporting me from not only the Seattle-Northwest area, but really all over the country and all over the world,” he said. “These past 10 years have been a really incredible time of growth and personal development and a lot being inquisitive and introspective of how I was able to achieve some of those things that I once thought was impossible, what I’ve learned and how I can pay it forward.”
The finalists who make the cut for the Olympic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 will be announced Monday and inducted Nov. 1 at the All-Alumni U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team reunion in Colorado Springs.
Ohno is one of 15 Olympians nominated for a finalist position, including Seattle resident Greg Barton (canoe/kayak), former Storm coach Anne Donovan (basketball), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Laura Berg (softball), John Mayasich (ice hockey) and John Smith (wrestling).
Finalists were decided on from votes by the public, U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family (which consists of the Athletes’ Advisory Council, national governing bodies, multisport organizations, USOPC board of directors, members of the media and corporate partners).
The inducted class will consist of five Olympians, three Paralympians and one team induction. Those selected will join the 109 individuals and 10 teams already in the Olympic Hall of Fame.
Ohno is the most decorated Winter U.S. Olympian of the group, with two gold medals in three consecutive appearances. Outside of his Olympic career, he has won eight world-championship titles and was inducted into the U.S. Speedskating Hall of Fame in 2016.
“For a guy who has broken barriers in the sport of short track for the U.S., where short track was not really recognized, his accomplishment, his look, his style, the interviews he did, it really helped bring the sport to the foreground,” said Ohno’s former Olympic short-track speedskating coach, Patrick Wentland. “It’s not just the physical accomplishments of the medals, it’s what he has done for the sport overall and what he continues to do for it.”
Since retiring from the sport, the 37-year-old Ohno has been involved in numerous entrepreneurial careers, including businesses in health and wellness, writing books, giving motivational speeches and providing analysis and commentary during NBC Winter Olympics broadcasts.
“He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t really sit still,” Wentland said. “He’s always pushing for something new and improving. He continues to push boundaries. He continues to want to make things better, for himself and for those around him as well. It’s just what he does. He’s got a lot of energy, a lot of determination and a lot of drive.”
Finding new athletic endeavors, such as completing an Ironman or going on “Dancing with the Stars” (twice), Ohno is learning how to channel his competitive nature into life off the ice.
“I really value the time that I spend when I’m able to get a workout in,” he said. “It’s kinda my sanctuary, because that’s who I am in the core. But now my mind has shifted to spending every ounce of my energy, every minute of every day, instead of trying to shave fractions of a second off my time or put more weight on the squat bar, it’s now focused on all of my entrepreneurial activities.”
While his Olympic career is behind him, Ohno’s father, Yuki, believes it’s still in his son’s foundation and something that will always be a part of him.
“The spirit of the Olympian, which is very, very unique, you don’t go for the money and you really don’t go for the fame or for the years of relentless and disciplined training,” Yuki said. “You challenge yourself and you represent the country. The true spirit of the Olympian is very, very pure and I think that he reflects that spirit. To be an Olympian and to be nominated for the Hall of Fame, that is quite an achievement.”