As the Sochi Games come to a close, what better time to look back at the amazing career trajectory of America's most decorated Winter Olympian, Apolo Anton Ohno. I had the opportunity to chat with Apolo again for Muscle and Body magazine
. which published two versions (above and below) of this Icon interview for its February 2014 issue.
But we still had some great outtakes from this interview, so I'm sharing those below. Here, Apolo shares additional insights on his careers in sports and entertainment as well as his philanthropic endeavors and his current training and nutrition regimen.
Here are my outtakes from this interview:
I did three profile pieces on athletes for the Sochi games.
My pursuit of sport outside of the competition world is something I’ve always been involved with and for me is a perfect fit. Russia is going to be interesting Games altogether.
It’s definitely a big change (to be commentating rather than competing). I went to London and did some broadcasting work there for the 2012 Olympics. That was my first real firsthand experience of going to the Games and not competing.
It’s humbling and an honor to be able to go to the Olympic Games and compete as an athlete and represent your country. But short track speed skating is one of those very obscure sports where it doesn’t get a lot of attention outside the Olympic space. So when we do have a chance to compete, whether it’s on North American soil or overseas, it provides incredible opportunity for athletes to shine when the curtain is open.
It’s a very special journey en route to the Olympic Games. Oftentimes we as Americans only view the athletes during that two-week period in February. That’s when we get to fall in love with the stories, the sacrifices and the athletes themselves. But it’s so much more beyond that. It feels good to know that people saw me, they supported me.
When I went to the Olympic Games in 2012 and watched some of my fellow athletes and friends and comrades compete, it inspired me to say, “I can do this one more time.” You’re an athlete and you see a friend of yours who’s going for his fourth Olympic Games, and he’s trying to break records as well. That inspires you as an athlete to say, “You know what, I can do this one more time.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I went to those Games with a surge of wanting to go back to the states and train my ass off and get back in the groove and say, “I’m gonna do this. Particularly this time, I’m smarter, I have more knowledge, I have more experience. I know what to do, I know what not to do. I know what to eat, what not to eat.” You have all this ammunition that perhaps you didn’t have when you were 18 years old. Maybe you might physically not be as strong or as quick, but you have this knowledge database that really, really can’t be traded for anything else.
Luckily I didn’t make the decision there, in London,
and make some weird announcement (of), “Oh, I’m gonna go back for another Olympic Games.” I came back to the U.S., I took some time off again. I said, “I’m gonna spend some time in LA and the next two weeks I’m gonna slowly think about this and really come to the decision if I wanted to dedicated more of my life toward the sport.”
At the end of those two weeks I said, “You know what, Apolo, I’m very happy. I still love this sport. I still feel healthy. I think I can do another Game—but …” For me I think it was time to refocus and concentrate my efforts outside of that one daily focus of speed skating.
I think I made the right decision. I’m very happy with my career and am very blessed. I have so many incredible friends and supporters and family who helped me get to that point. For me, I feel like it’s a new chapter.
So I’ve focused all of my time and resources
on all of these other ventures. It’s a big gamble—the transition from competing Olympic athlete to non-competing athlete is perhaps the most difficult thing any Olympic athlete goes through in their life. Because you’ve spent so many years of your life completely consumed and involved in your sport that there was no Plan B for a lot of these athletes.
For me, I feel like I did good planning,
but you still struggle with that transition stage. Because there’s definitely romanticism involved with the daily pursuit of one singular goal, and every single aspect of your life is revolving around this. Like all of these planets around the sun, they’re all revolved around this one focus.
I wouldn’t say (short track speed skating) was my destiny
or that it was a realization that this was what I was born to do. Rather, it was a realization that if I did decide to pursue something, I’ve gotta put all of my effort toward that.
Before, I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of giving 100 percent and then it not being enough. So I didn’t. Instead I’d give 70 percent. If I was off, I’d be able to say, “Well, I didn’t try my hardest.” So it was kind of an excuse to rest up rather than risking it all. And sometimes in life and in sport, that’s what it takes, regardless of outcome. That’s what it’s about—risking it all, for that one moment on the ice every four years for 41 seconds.
(After failing to make the Olympic team in 1998), I didn’t want to be a lost statistic. I didn’t want to be that kid who could’ve and should’ve but didn’t … That loss ignited a fire within me that I didn’t know existed yet. And it taught me a lot about losing and pain and emotions and how to channel that into something positive.
My manager, Lee Kernis, right after the (2010) Olympics asked, “There’ll probably be a lot of opportunities. Is there anything specific you want to do (in the entertainment arena)?” I said, “I want to play a small role in a movie—I don’t care what it is. I want to go on a few different TV shows”—Hawaii Five-0 was one of them—“and I want to host a show.” We made all of these things happen.
I’ve taken a lot of acting classes in LA.
And I fell in love, actually, with the art of acting. But because I do so many other things besides just singularly focusing on acting and performing, I didn’t feel confident enough to be able to go out there and try to produce a big role. I had so much respect for those actors who dedicate so much time (throughout) their entire life for that craft.
It was wonderful to experience it.
And I continue to do things like that. I love being on screen—I think it’s really, really cool. I have a lot of friends who are actors and I just admire what they’re able to do. It’s a total 180 of what we do as athletes.
As athletes you’re taught to hide or mask
all of your emotions, to show no fears. Whereas in acting, vulnerability is perhaps one of the most utilized tools you can showcase on screen or when you’re performing. It was a big change to me to go inside my own psyche and emotional content and be able to bring that out and talk about certain things and relate to certain things that affected me personally.
Anyone who’s interested in psychology,
just go take an acting class. It’s like Psyche 101. The experience was awesome. It taught me a lot about myself.
And Minute to Win It
—I never thought I’d be hosting a game show. But it was a lot of fun. It was much different than I thought. I got to give away a lot of free money to people who were strangers, and I made a lot of friends along the way.
My entertainment career’s been a lot of fun.
I’m sure I could’ve focused a lot more attention and energy to it, but at the time it was exactly what I wanted. If there’s something there in the future in the bigger perspective, then I hope to continue to pursue it. I’m in no rush. I’m really happy with the position I’m in now. So I’m going to take my time.
The first thing I said after I finished the Olympics
was, “I want to focus a lot more time on giving back.” I thought about starting my own foundation, which we did. But I found it far more effective to perhaps partner with existing philanthropic organizations and groups, in either lending my name or helping bring attention to them or awareness to that cause.
There’s so many philanthropic groups and organizations
around the world. Some of my very close friends in the Seattle area have done an excellent job dedicating their entire life and financial resources to giving back. I really respect that. I’ve done everything from the World Philanthropy forum in Singapore to a lot of events for the Special Olympics—I’m a global ambassador to the Special Olympics—the Ronald McDonald House, children’s hospitals, SeeYourImpact.org.
My nutrition now is definitely more normal now.
I do a lot of business now domestically and internationally, so I’m always traveling. Which anyone knows who’s trying to stay in good shape, it’s very hard to eat clean when you’re traveling. Look, I enjoy a great meal like anybody else.
I think there’s definitely a bit of balance there.
It’s whatever your goals are. If your goals are to be absolutely shredded and chiseled like stone, it’s pretty difficult to go out to eat. You need to be making and preparing your meals every single day, and at the same time making sure you get in protein every two and a half, three hours. It’s not fun, but it’s whatever your goals are.
For me, I go through phases.
There are times when I do focus like that. When I was on Dancing with the Stars, I’d eat very clean. But when I’m traveling … When I’m in New York, I’m not gonna say, “Oh, no, I’m not gonna eat a pizza. I enjoy those things. When I was training as an athlete, I never would. It was basically hard-boiled eggs, kale, salmon, chicken breast, and coconut oil seven to eight times a day, every single day. And raw oats, unsweetened applesauce—stuff like that. And water. It’s kind of boring and repetitive.
For me, balance is the most important thing.
There are times when I spend three to four to five to six weeks straight eating really clean. And I feel amazing and I perform better mentally and physically when I’m eating clean and my nutrition’s on point. But it takes a lot of time and a lot of work.
Nutrition is just as hard or harder
than the actually training aspect. And I think the benefits are 75 percent-plus of the training.
I love training.
I love working out. It will always be a part of my life. I’m not as lean as I was when I was training to be an athlete full-time. I’ve spent time doing NFL training with some friends in Philadelphia. I’ve done cross-fit training. I did the New York City Marathon, which, oh my God, was so incredibly brutal. My body is not designed for endurance sports.
I’m great at intervals.
That’s kind of my forte. But endurance-sports non-stop cardio for that many hours is insane. I love doing a variety of workouts. I don’t have that kind of time, so I tend to focus on high-intensity interval training more than anything. That’s really helped in terms of terms of getting a great workout, a great sweat and also staying in good shape.
Anything from creating my own circuit programs
to doing cross-fit training on the side. Or, if I have limited space, I do a lot of stuff off the Beachbody program—whether it’s P90X or Insanity. I like to switch it up.
It’s an amazing how many people
out there are incredibly fit but where never athletes. It blows my mind, actually. I’ll be working out with some friends in LA and some guys will come join us and they’re like freaks or beasts of nature. It’s like, this guy should’ve played NFL football, this guy should’ve been a speed skater. It’s actually inspiring and humbling.
I don’t do training
anymore on ice. I don’t want to get in that skin suit anymore, either. (Laughs.)
As a bonus, here is my 2008 Muscle & Body cover story on Apolo in its entirety. Interesting to see how far he's traveled on his journey.