November 19, 2018

Exercise & Physical Health

#29 – Apolo Anton Ohno: 8-time Olympic medalist – extreme training, discipline, pursuing perfection, and responding to adversity

“I loved to do stuff that people thought was completely obscene and crazy . . . my races were won before I got to the start line . . . they just knew that I was completely off my rocker. I was not in the same headspace as them.” —Apolo Ohno

Read Time 20 minutes

In this episode, 8-time Olympic medalist, Apolo Ohno, discusses the lessons he’s learned from his remarkable career in speed skating and the extreme physical and mental training — and determination — required to reach greatness.


We discuss:

  • Apolo’s childhood with his single dad, early success in sports, and falling in love with skating [7:30];
  • The differences between inline and ice skating, and short- & long-track speed-skating, and the evolution of the clap skate [21:00];
  • The mental game and the physical game: intense training and mindset [29:30];
  • Apolo’s early success in short-track that led to an amazing opportunity and his reluctance to go for it [40:15];
  • Early days at Lake Placid, first experience on the world stage, and a little self-sabotage [56:45];
  • Tough love parenting, making a commitment, training like Rocky, and developing the mindset of a fighter [1:17:30];
  • 2002 Olympics, winning his first medal, and rising above the sport [1:32:45];
  • Apolo’s evolving training and body composition throughout his Olympic career [2:05:15];
  • Going into the Lion’s Den to learn from Korean skaters and making a radical and risky change that led to his most successful Olympic games [2:12:45];
  • Apolo’s tumultuous relationship with South Korea, from hatred to respect to admiration [2:29:00];
  • Applying lessons learned through training, adjusting to life after skating, and the struggles many athletes face transitioning to retirement [2:46:30];
  • The final years of Apolo’s career: intense focus, crazy training, mental fortitude, and resiliency [2:57:30];
  • Officially retiring and contemplating a comeback [3:16:15];
  • Where does Apolo want to be in 10 years? [3:22:45];
  • The pursuit of perfection and flow states [3:29:30];
  • Where you can follow Apolo [3:35:00]; and
  • More.


Apolo’s childhood with his single dad, early success in sports, and falling in love with skating [7:30]

Figure 1. Apolo with his father showing off his 8 medals. Image credit: Freedom of Excess

  • His father was born in Japan, came to US at age 17, spoke zero English
  • He has never met his mother, parents split up right after when he was born
  • Apolo’s own genealogy is a bit of a mystery
  • Dad drilled into him that you can always work hard and get better, no matter how good you are you should strive for perfection
  • Apolo starting swimming at age 8 and broke a state record in the 50 m backstroke at age 12
  • Started training in speed skating at 14
  • Fell in love with speed skating and decided that is what he wanted to do after seeing a live competition in Vancouver:
  • “This is the most incredible sport ever seen in my life. It doesn’t make sense how these human beings can be leaning over these impossible angles on a blade that’s one millimeter thick and they’re wearing outfits that resemble Superman without the cape.”
  • Peter has noticed a common thread amongst professional in that they enjoy the process of mastery and the practice that comes with it
  • Did Apolo enjoy practice? Not early on (age 14-17), but eventually did

The differences between inline and ice skating, and short- & long-track speed-skating, and the evolution of the clap skate [21:00]

  • Inline skating is on wheels (rollerblades), predominately outdoor but some indoor tracks now
  • Ice skating is, of course, on ice in a skating on a 17-18 inch blade

Short track vs long track

{end of show notes preview}

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Apolo Anton Ohno

Apolo Anton Ohno is a retired American short track speed skating competitor and an eight-time medalist (two gold, two silver, four bronze) in the Winter Olympics.

Raised by his father, Ohno began training full-time in 1996. He has been the face of short track in the United States since winning his medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics. At the age of 14, he became the youngest U.S. national champion in 1997 and was the reigning champion from 2001–2009, winning the title a total of 12 times. In December 1999, he became the youngest skater to win a World Cup event title, and became the first American to win a World Cup overall title in 2001, which he won again in 2003 and 2005. He won his first overall World Championship title at the 2008 championships.

Ohno’s accolades and accomplishments include being the United States Olympic Committee’s Male Athlete of the Month in October 2003 and March 2008, the U.S. Speed skating’s Athlete of the Year for 2003, and was a 2002, 2003 and 2006 finalist for the Sullivan Award, which recognizes the best amateur athlete in the United States. Since gaining recognition through his sport, Ohno has worked as a motivational speaker, philanthropist, started a nutritional supplement business called 8 Zone, and in 2007, competed on and won the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars. Ohno later became host of a revival of Minute to Win It on Game Show Network and served as a commentator for NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. [Wikipedia]


Apolo on Instagram: @ApoloOhno

Apolo on Twitter: @ApoloOhno

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  1. I am not a speed skating fan and only have any familiarity with Apolo by way of the AMAs on The Drive and the material in the Qualys. However, anyone interested in his training history should give this a read: it gives insight into his use of cyclic keto to lose weight while holding strength and adapt to fat metabolism, and also his strong focus on sleep and recovery; surprisingly, per the show notes (I haven’t listened to this one), the former subject was barely touched on and the latter not at all:

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