Q&A: Apolo Ohno

By Lisa Costantini | May 02, 2012, 11:30 a.m. (ET)
Apolo Anton Ohno

With a record eight Winter Olympic medals, short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno is the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian of all time. And though his first medal came a decade ago (gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Games), he doesn’t plan to stop racking up the accolades anytime soon -- at least not officially. While he contemplates the idea of retirement, he’s been keeping busy off the ice. From guest stints on "Dancing With the Stars" and "I Get That A Lot," to endorsement ads, his celebrity status means his face is popping up everywhere -- including on a coveted commercial spot during this year’s Super Bowl. We caught up with the “Michael Phelps of winter sports” after his recent co-hosting job on "Live With Kelly," where he opened up about everything from one of his life’s most embarrassing moments (besides DWTS), to what he’ll be doing at the London Summer Games.

You’re a busy guy, with credits that include author, athlete, celebrity, businessman, philanthropist… What are you most proud to call yourself?

I have to be honest with you; if it weren’t for my Olympic experiences I never would have learned the values and the things that I learned from becoming an Olympic athlete. Without that tried and tested belief system that I think all Olympians have to adhere to, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

You’ve had some great experiences thanks to your profession, any one that stands out more than others?

Obviously the Games. Each and every single one of the Games has been an incredible experience, very memorable, for sure. I think the 2002 Olympic Games being my first Olympics were incredible.

What has been your best experience as an athlete?

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Winning my seventh and eighth medal at those Games is always going to ring true in myself because of what I had gone through to reach that point.

What has been your worst experience as an athlete?

Look, I’m human. Like anyone, and I look back and I say, Man, I probably shouldn’t have done this. I probably shouldn’t have done that. But, at the end of the day, if it was without those experiences that shaped me as a human being, shaped me as a person, I wouldn’t have that to draw on. Those have been a very important aspect of my life, whether they were good or bad.

Any of those experiences embarrassing?

My "Dancing With the Stars" was pretty embarrassing. I’ll tell you a funny one. I was rushing into a store to get a new suit after changing my jeans back at my hotel. As I walked into the store I thought I stepped in something. When I looked down it was my underwear. A pair of my briefs were stuck to the cuffs of my jeans and I didn’t notice it. When I walked in the store the guy was like, “Hi sir, you have something on your leg.” I was like, “Oh yeah. That’s mine.” I shoved it back in my pocket. What else was I going to do?

Since you’re still undecided about when you’ll retire, what are you most likely found doing when not training?

I’m in a plane, I’m speaking, I’m in a boardroom, I’m traveling, I’m reading scripts. I’m getting ready to produce something. I am busy, I’m not lying to you. I’m crazy busy. I’m in the car, the time spent from the car to the airport I’m on the phone with you. When I get on the plane, I’m basically reading scripts for a reading I have for "Hawaii Five-O." And then through the weekend I have more meetings, work out a little bit, and then [I'll be] preparing for my role on Monday. It’s not set in stone yet, but that’s the part we’re getting on tape so the directors and producers can actually see me on film.

You travel so much, what is your favorite place on Earth?

I love the beaches of California. I love New York City. Seattle is always home. My business partners live in Vancouver, so I’m always going to Vancouver and Whistler. Overseas, I love Asia. That’s my spot. Anywhere from Singapore to Thailand to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila. All of these places are incredible and they all have good food. For me to experience culture, I’ve always tried to do it through food, especially when traveling overseas. Through that, most of the time, I know every single thing on the menu and I can say it in the native tongue, but I couldn’t say hello to somebody.

You say you love food, but you’re also really big on nutrition and weight loss. Why is that so important to you?

I have always loved nutrition. I’m a big foodie, but like anybody else I struggle with weight. It was very difficult for me to lose a ton of weight and get down to the lean small compact speed skating body that my body wasn’t used to. So I had to utilize certain types of food and nutrients and timing of when to eat and what type of supplements to take so I could be the best athlete I could be.

So how does your diet vary on competition day?

I’ll eat brown rice pasta with a little bit of coconut oil, a small fish for protein and some greens just for some fiber.

What’s your favorite health food that you could eat every day?

I make a really good kale salad with chicken or eggs.

And junk food? Any cravings?

It depends which mood I’m in. I literally love all types of food. You name it. Certain chocolates for sure I get cravings for, everything from Nestle Crunch to M&Ms.

Any food you always travel with?

Well, when I was competing full-time I would bring my own food, but there were years where we would go and eat the street food; probably not the safest thing to do. But it wasn’t an Olympic year, and you only live once. Plus, it helped me build up an immunity to it.

Speaking of Olympic years, will you have any involvement with the London Summer Games?

I have a few sponsors that are going to have houses there and I’ll have a role with it doing some cool things on the ground. Broadcasting, hopefully some walk-and-talk with athletes. You know, I’d like to shoot some of the really cool aspects that are outside the Olympic Village. Most people will never get a chance to experience the energy and overall of just how fantastic it is to be there.

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