Originally created 02/24/02

Ohno's game face is also the face of the games



SALT LAKE CITY - Sandy Morris used electrical tape. Her boyfriend, Chuck Greene, went with magic marker.

"Supposedly it's permanent ink," said Greene, a 28-year-old graphics designer from Denver, rubbing the faux goatee on his chin and laughing. "So I may be stuck with this for a while. That's OK. She likes it."

You glance down the line in front of the Delta Center and see variations of this same face, as if looking in some carnival mirror.

This is Apolo Ohno's face.

And it is the face of these Games.

Even before Ohno stepped onto the ice last night and took two more shots at winning medals, this face _ the bright eyes and scraggly goatee of a 19-year-old short-track speedskater from Seattle _ told the story of what happened here in Utah better than one belonging to a hockey player (too rich), a figure skater (too much makeup) or a Russian official (not enough makeup).

It is a face that, just like the Games, arrived at Opening Ceremonies with controversy.

The Games had the cloud of bribery. Ohno had the storm of the U.S. short-track trials, where he was accused of backing off to allow a friend, Rusty Smith, to join him in Salt Lake.

The f-word _ fix _ was being tossed about. And there wasn't even a French judge in sight. Eventually, though, lawsuits were dropped _ a sign, some said, that IMG and Nike had swept things under the rug.

Which brings us to the next thing about the Games. And the face.

It is a face full of hype. Even before the Games began, Ohno was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a black glove with a big white swoosh above the headline: "Ohno? Oh, Yes!"

It is a face that remained in the middle of controversy once competition began. The Games had Skategate. Ohno had the freakish finish to the 1,000, when he and two others competitors wiped out, allowing Australia's Steven Bradbury coasted to gold. He got a silver and a gash in his left thigh. Then, in his second race, the 1,500, he received the gold when South Korea's Kim Dong-Sung was disqualified.

The U.S. Olympic Committee was bombarded with 16,000 e-mails from Korea, including some that gave Ohno something else in common with the Games: extra security.

He arrived at the Delta Center last night with an armed Utah state trooper at his side, six stitches in his thigh and his face all over the place.

It is a face that used to be fat, thanks to a habit of cutting short training runs to stop at Pizza Hut. His teammates called him "Chunky." Then he got serious, lost weight and became the best in the country at handling the chaos on a 111-meter oval.

It is a face that is a little younger, a little edgier, a little more diverse than those of Olympics past _ which seems fitting for a Games that included the first Winter medals for a Mexican-American (speedskater Derek Parra), an African-American (bobsledder Vonetta Flowers) and a Cuban-American (speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez).

It is a face full of hope and hopelessly old-fashioned Olympic ideals.

"My quest, my journey, is not about winning four golds," Ohno said. "It's about going to the Olympics, experiencing it, enjoying it."

It is a face that lights up, even after the pileup in the 1,000; a face that reminds you most of the athletes here aren't whining.

It is a face that, despite the flaws, you end up liking.

Maybe even mimicking.

Anybody have a magic marker?