VANCOUVER -- The list of great American athletes who have won bunches of medals at the Winter Olympic Games makes for a story of perseverance, endurance and triumph. These are the greats, the names that boys and girls read about in books that fuel their dreams in the big cities and the far corners of the United States.
With the silver medal he won Saturday in the 1500m in long track speed skating, for instance, Shani Davisnow has four. That silver marked the first time an American has won medals in the 1500m in back-to-back Olympics.
Skier Bode Miller, with the silver he won Friday in the super-G, has four medals, too -- most by any American ski racer at the Games, ever.
Eric Heiden has five, all from 1980 Lake Placid Games, and what he did there may never be seen again. He won at every distance, from the 500m sprint through the distance event that is the 10,000m.
Bonnie Blair has six medals. She won gold at three different editions of the Games: 1988, 1992, 1994.
Apolo Ohno, the short track speed skating star, stands alone.
In winning bronze Saturday in the 1000m, a race in which he seemed poised to take over the lead late but then had to scramble in the last laps just to get back to third, Ohno now holds seven medals.
Two in Salt Lake City in 2002. Three in Torino in 2006. Two in Vancouver in 2010, and counting.
After he crossed the finish line, Ohno acted every bit the part of a real pro. No out-sized celebration. No grandstanding. He circled the ice with an American flag in his left hand, waving to the fans with his right. A few moments later, he said, "It has been an incredible ride, an amazing journey."
Michael Phelps, who knows all about incredible rides, was among those jammed Saturday night into the stands here at Pacific Coliseum.
"It's sick," Phelps said of short-track with a big laugh, adding a moment later, "This is a cool event. Being able to see him make history -- it's just neat."
Phelps, of course, has 16 medals, 14 gold.
What Phelps has done -- with London 2012 still to come -- is unmatched in Summer Games history. He is far and away the leading American medal-winner.
Even so, what Ohno is up to is thoroughly remarkable because -- unlike a sport such as swimming, in which the parameters of the event are wholly predictable -- the very unpredictability of short track is the essence of the thing.
Short track is all about the pack. And about the crashes and falls the pack produces while whipping around those corners.
That's short track, the saying goes, and over the course of his career Ohno has seen it all play out in so many unusual ways -- unusual perhaps being typical for short-track.
In the 1000m final in Salt Lake City in 2002, for instance, going into the final turn, with Ohno leading and seemingly on the way to gold, a huge pileup sent him and three others to the ice; the fifth guy in the race, Australia's Steven Bradbury, who had been lagging about 30 meters back, breezed past everyone else piled up on the ice and won gold. Ohno, meanwhile, got up and stuck his toe across the line for silver.
Here last Saturday, in the 1500m, on the final turn, two South Korean skaters took each other out -- Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-Bak. Ohno would end up taking second, behind another Korean, Lee Jung-su, with another American, 19-year-old J.R. Celski, taking third.
That race, in an echo of prior Olympic contests involving Ohno and Korean racers, provoked public outrage back in South Korea. Ohno accepted it with apparent equanimity.
"Nothing new-same ol' obstacles and challenges- I live for this!!!" Ohno posted Friday to his Twitter feed.
Earlier Saturday, he posted again: "Sun is shining, I am focused, determined, driven. I am blessed to be alive, healthy with an incredible opportunity to be my best. I CAN!"
He can, and he did.
In the quarterfinal, Ohno lagged back during the early laps -- as he often does -- and then fired up the burners just long enough to qualify for the semifinals, second behind Canada's Charles Hamelin.
Standing at the line before the semifinal gun, Ohno yawned. He took a deep breath and let it out. The gun went off. Again, he ran from the back. Then, on the first curve in the final lap, he swung way out wide, then cut inside and took the lead. He won the heat, Hamelin second. That took Sung out of the final.
That left Lee Ho-suk and Lee Jung-su, along with Hamelin and Hamelin's younger brother, Francois.
Five skaters. Two Koreans, two Canadians, Ohno. Three medals.
Ohno, a red bandana under his blue helmet, drew the No. 1 start position. He let the two Canadian brothers take the lead. The Hamelins stayed in front for most of the race.
With just over three laps to go, sitting in third, Ohno slipped ever so slightly.
"In the blink of an instant," as he put it afterward, the entire dynamic changed. Instead of charging for first -- Ohno said he felt so good and had so much left in the tank -- he was suddenly fifth.
The Koreans took over. Lee Jung-su would go on to win, his second gold, this one an Olympic record, 1:23.747. Lee Ho-suk took silver.
The real race was for third.
But after being in front for so long, both Canadians apparently were out of gas. Ohno surged. By the final turn, it was clear that third was his. He clapped his hands as he crossed the line -- as much, perhaps, about what could have been, a fight for first, as what was, bronze and that seventh medal.
Afterward, Ohno was asked if he could find the right words to describe what it meant to be the winningest American of all time at the Winter Games. He said, "I really can't, especially in a sport as crazy as this I have been blessed."
Blair, through the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, "I'm very happy for Apolo's accomplishment," calling it a "great feat."
As it turns out, Ohno's sixth career medal, the silver last Saturday in the 1500m, made him the winningest short track speed skater across the Games from any nation. The seventh merely serves as confirmation, said Bradbury, who is here as a commentator for Australian television: "I think it arguably places him as the greatest short-track athlete in history."
Ohno has two more races to go, the 500m and the 5000m relay, the finals in both next Friday. Ohno won gold in the 500 in Torino. Gold in the 500m in Vancouver would make Ohno the first short track skater to win gold at three different Games.
Ohno is far too savvy, and at this point in his career far too gracious, to declare he's out for gold, and only gold. Thus it's to Bradbury for the last word on a night in which Ohno made history, because there's more of the Ohno story yet to be written here in Vancouver:
"Apolo -- I don't think he'd be pleased with himself if he walks away with four medals from here and none of them is gold."