The 2014 IRONMAN® World Championship took place last Saturday (October 11), and among the more than 2,100 contenders, was America’s most decorated Olympic short-track speedskater, Apolo Ohno. Finding himself in a very different setting than the 40-second sprint races he was accustomed to as a short-track speedskater, the 32-year-old Ohno had put in the hours of training, but hit the course with only one IRONMAN 70.3 and one sprint triathlon under his belt. That didn’t stop him from finishing in 9.52.27 [1:00:29 swim, 5:07:15 swim, 3:36:41 run], blowing away his own expectations for the day.
Friends say Ohno has the ability to step into a very different gear when he competes, and he did just that in Kona. And just like in his speedskating races, his dad was there in Kona to cheer him on.
We spoke with Ohno before the race and then we caught up with him again, after the race.
When we asked you about what might be the toughest part of the race, you said getting through the point everyone talks about, when you think you might quit. Did that happen?
Never. It was very strange. Throughout my entire training, people had told me that you’re going to go through these emotions, and start asking yourself if you can do this. But in my entire life of speedskating, I never woke up and didn’t want to go to practice. So, I didn’t allow that to enter my brain on Saturday. I focused on what I had to do now, at that moment. I was very much in a fighter mentality and ready for anything.
I ran through options in my mind. I knew I couldn’t defeat the island—option 1 would be for me to defeat the island and that wasn’t going to happen. Option 2 was for me to be defeated and I wasn’t going to let that happen. Or option 3, I could strive to be one with the island—you’re out there all alone and you’re so tired and you have nothing left and for me it was a very spiritual experience.
At the start they used these tribal drums before the first wave went off. It was this really cool moment for me and it stayed with me throughout the entire run.
You knew running would be the toughest challenge for you, but you finished in 3:36.41. An impressive finish considering you did 3:25 in the New York marathon a few years back, without the swim and bike.
I knew this was the big stage and I had to give everything I had. The swim was consistent and on the bike I was strong. The run was the most difficult. I think it [my time] would have been better, but at mile 25, I had to take a quick detour [a bathroom dash].
I was very happy with the run but the place I had to take my mind was very interesting. I went through some interesting conversations in my head. I knew I was going to hit the wall, I knew that would happen and I knew sometimes at those moments you can summon the most strength. It was super intense, the fight I had to give, not letting down, telling myself, ‘I can do this. I am going to be strong.’ Crossing the finish line was a very cool moment.
What words did your coach, Newton athlete, Paula Newby-Fraser, have for you before the race?
Before the race, Paula said, your initials “AAO” stand for, “Adapt, adjust, overcome.”
How does this rank in your experiences as an athlete?
Everybody was so incredible and I feed off of people’s energy. It was uplifting and inspiring. While I was out there it got pretty emotional for me, very spiritual, very deep, my brain and body were cooked. There is no other place on the planet that you can experience these things while doing something like that.
This is something I can take with me for the rest of my life and I’m very proud to have this, I have it for life.
How did the triathlete community compare to other athletic experiences you’ve had?
I will tell you the endurance world and the triathlete world is very unique. You have to jump in and experience it for yourself, it’s so exciting. I was very blessed to be welcomed with open arms.
How did the finish feel? Did people recognize you?
There were so many people. It was amazing as I was finishing, everyone shouting ‘Apolo, Apolo.’ And then I went back and saw my friend finish, and then I saw the countdown to midnight, I got the whole deal. I didn’t want to miss a minute.
After the race, do you still love your Newton’s?
I’m wearing them. They are awesome.
In 2013, former NFL wide receiver Hines Ward, completed the IRONMAN. He encouraged you to do it. Who are you going to encourage to follow in your footsteps?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I set the bar. I’ll get someone else.
A week in Hawaii—I’ll do some work, and get my legs recovered and just take it in. Spend some time with my journal— the experience was once in a lifetime.