VANCOUVER -- About three hours before he headed over to the Pacific Coliseum for what may well have been his last night of Olympic short track, Apolo Ohno paused to file a post to his Twitter feed.
"It's time. Heart of a lion," he said. "I will give my all --heart, mind & spirit today. This is what it's about! All the way until the end! No regrets."
Each Olympic athlete is special.
Even so, it must be said that Apolo Ohno is a one-of-a-kind Olympian.
Ohno late Friday anchored the U.S. men's 5000m relay team to bronze, his eighth career Olympic medal. Earlier in the night, it appeared he had also won silver in the 500m -- but he was disqualified, the referees ruling he had impermissibly tangled with Canadian Francois-Louis-Tremblay, the eventual bronze medalist.
Ohno's place in American Winter Games history is singular. His eight medals are two more than Bonnie Blair, who has six; three more than Eric Heiden, who has five.
Moreover, the relay medal pushed the overall American total for these Games to 34 -- tying the best American effort ever, in Salt Lake City in 2002. The U.S. team has two more medals already in hand, color yet to be determined, in men's hockey and men's speed skating pursuit; 36 equals the record number of medals won by a single nation at a Winter Games, by Germany in 2002.
While these Vancouver Games -- his third and presumably last -- thus saw Ohno's name etched into the record books, they have also made plain something more, his willing and unabashed embrace of Olympic ambassadorship.
In that spirit, he is indisputably one of the first to make extensive use not only of his celebrity -- gained not only from the Games but from his winning turn on "Dancing with the Stars" -- to commune at length with fans on Facebook and Twitter.
It's a development sure to fascinate sociologists, pop culture experts and Olympic historians amid the movement's search for connection with fans, especially younger fans.
The digital dialogue assuredly promotes Ohno the brand. Skeptics might assert that's the whole point.
Ohno would demur. At length, as he did Friday night between races.
"In 2002 and 2006," he said, "I don't think I had any way to basically reach those who were fans of the sport, or fans of speed skating, anything like that.
"This social networking [and] micro-blogging has allowed me basically to just voice my own thoughts. Sometimes I'm just reiterating things I want to hear myself. You know, it's a beautiful thing. When I receive messages back from people, that inspires me. I'm human like anybody else and I have my own mental errors and my own weaknesses. Hearing from other people, to kind of just continually be pushing that positive vibe, is kind of what this is all about.
"This being my third Olympic Games and me being in the sport for 15 years, I need all the mojo I can get. I'm just trying to keep everything as positive and smooth as possible. When I speak to my Twitter, I speak from my heart. So sometimes I'm talking crazy. Sometimes I'm having fun. Sometimes I'm being serious. I'm glad people like it, because it makes me feel like I'm making a change, making a difference. I'm not perfect by any means. I'm not trying to be. It's inspiring to me and helps me as a person. It's cool to know I can help change other people's lives, too."
In person and online, Ohno emphasizes at every turn that the journey is not about winning. It's about the journey itself.
"Well...another epic day in this journey," he wrote Wednesday. "Glad to be able 2 share it with all of you. Without struggle - there is no satisfaction."
On Monday, two days after he had won his seventh career medal, he told a fan named Melanie, "I'd love to still be involved with the Olympic movement."
Beth, these words were for you: "… life is unexpected and how we roll with the changes is what makes us who we are."
Tonya: "… I've been using bandanas since 1998 … prob to catch sweat."
On Thursday, he grew reflective: "Was my last training in these Olympics. 1 more day! Yes!!!! I'm in the zone. Call me Mr. 25/8."
He added later, "For those who don't know: 25/8 = pushing forward- 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. This is not the end, rather, another chapter. I love it!"
Ohno won the 500m in Torino in 2006 in what he has repeatedly called a "perfect race." He got a great start off the 1 start position, the inside slot, and the race was all but over. This time -- not so perfect.
Ohno drew the 3 slot to start. He then raced until the final lap from the back. Around the final turn, he tried to make a move on the inside. He and Tremblay made contact. Tremblay went down. So did South Korea's Sung Si-Bak. Canada's Charles Hamelin crossed first, Ohno second; Sung and Tremblay got up and scrambled across the line.
The contact could have been ruled incidental. But -- no.
Ohno said, "I thought I had [medal] No. 8. The referees disagreed."
Thus it was to the relay to see if Ohno could get that No. 8.
The relay, for those unaccustomed, can seem bewildering. Ohno had said earlier in the week, "People watching back home will be like, 'What the hell is going on?' There are too many people on the ice. But we know what's going on. Just watch the last four laps -- that's all that really matters. It's like an NBA game. Just kind of show up and see if it's tied or not."
For most of the race, the Americans stood fourth. Ohno, racing last, made a move late and, at the line, he was third. Canada grabbed first, South Korea second.
"I just feel like I've been eating dessert the whole time," Ohno said of his 2010 Olympic experience. "This is more icing. Anything more for me just makes this whole experience even sweeter."