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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Busy schedule makes Ohno long for Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

Apolo Ohno could not sleep. The events of that night were still too fresh, the emotions far too raw. Hours earlier he pieced together the perfect race, winning gold on the same night he won another bronze in February, tying an American record for men with five Winter Games medals overall.

Scenes from his life flashed through his head like a movie playing on an endless loop. And so at 4 a.m., Ohno dismissed the possibility of sleeping, grabbed his laptop and starting typing furiously like a college student pulling an all-nighter.

He wanted to capture everything. People. Emotions. Struggles. Controversy. His path. His life. His future. He didn't stop typing for two hours, some 20 pages churned as night turned into morning.

"I remember writing that if I had walked away that night from the sport, I would have been 100 percent content and satisfied for the rest of my life, knowing that I'd done that," Ohno says. "I felt so content, man. I had that perfect race."

Three months have passed since Ohno finished his manifesto. He's sitting on a couch in the lobby of the W Hotel downtown Tuesday, familiar soul patch hanging from his chin, familiar what's-next questions being posed about his future.

This much Ohno knows with certainty: He has not ruled out competing in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He's also ready to become an entertainer.

And his calendar is full the next few weeks with events in his hometown — hosting his 24th birthday party at the Space Needle Monday night, throwing out the first pitch at the Mariners game and visiting Children's Hospital on today, a stop at the Governor's Mansion with fellow local Olympians on Thursday and hosting a fundraiser for Nikkei Concerns, a nonprofit serving elders in the Japanese American and Asian Pacific American communities June 4.

"I want to spend some time here in Seattle," Ohno says. "I love it here, and I don't want to spend too much time away. I don't want to feel like I'm just visiting. I want to feel like I'm coming home."

This visit marks the first time Ohno returned home since his latest Olympic triumph. He's been busy, appearing on a Wheaties cereal box, meeting the President — "he called us dudes and dudesses," Ohno says — and signing with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, an agency that represents Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler.

"I've literally been living out of a suitcase," Ohno says. "My second home is in Colorado Springs [at the U.S. Olympic training facility]. I've been back there three times. Every time I go back there, I'm there for less than 24 hours. It's been crazy."

Ohno calls this period of his life an expansion phase. The last 10 years have been wrapped entirely around the Olympics, wiping out any semblance of a social life. And now that Ohno has accomplished all that he set out to, he wants to "do something bigger and more powerful."

This will include more speaking engagements and could include work in television or movies. He already has been offered parts in movies, but can't discuss them because the negotiations are ongoing.

To that end, Ohno lived in Los Angeles for about a month after the Olympics, meeting people in the entertainment industry. He chose Brillstein-Grey because they were interested in keeping him authentic, allowing Ohno to aim for goals that include "becoming someone outside of sports who embodies much more than just athletics."

There is no blueprint for Ohno's plan, no footsteps to follow. Only a plan to be the first.

"I've been able to share a connection with people," Ohno says. "I'm thousands of miles away, but for some reason, I can have this personal relationship with people I've never met. They watch me, and they feel like they know me, and that's really powerful."

That connection comes from Ohno's Olympic exploits and prompts daily Vancouver questions. If the Olympics were overseas, Ohno says he would not even consider going. But the pull of an Olympics so close to home, his second on North American soil, remains strong.

Issues remain. Ohno would need to acquire sponsors for another run. He also would have to commit to another three-plus years of training.

Friends weigh in all the time. They point to the medals he earned in 2002 in Salt Lake City, the storybook ending in Turin, all the things that could go wrong in the next four years, all the opportunities Ohno might miss.

Ohno plans to attend the Vancouver Games regardless, saying he hopes Seattle shuts down because so many leave to watch.

"The cool thing is that I've done every thing I want to do," Ohno says. "I've had the perfect race. I don't think there are any critics left. I've been away from Seattle for a long time. I haven't been able to come back here and just spend months here and just relax and enjoy that sweet, sweet smell of rain."

Part of Ohno's plan involves finding sponsors or opportunities locally. He says no Olympic athlete from here has ever "really been the face of the area." He says he'd like to be that person.

In the meantime, there's the matter of that first pitch. Ohno hasn't thrown a baseball since the last time he tossed one from the mound at Safeco Field a few years back. He remembers how far away the mound seemed from home plate and how far away the perfect race seemed from his reality.

"I'm happy to be back, that's for sure," Ohno says. "I'm content. Everything seems to be coming together. And I just turned 24."

Life is better than it has ever been. Ohno is sharing everything he wrote that night in February — his struggles, beliefs, and, ultimately, his story.

"The philosophy of winning is not determined by getting on the podium," Ohno says. "It's much, much bigger than that. That's what the Olympics are about. And I want to be the ambassador to carry that, to show athletes and the world."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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