American skater at home in Vancouver

By STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN

VANCOUVER -- When the Vancouver Olympics are said and done, the two most celebrated "local" athletes might not even be Canadians.

Defending Olympic moguls champion Dale Begg-Smith was born in Vancouver, and raised in Whistler, but competes for Australia, and Olympic short track speedskating legend Apolo Ohno is from Seattle, but considers Vancouver his second home.

In fact, Ohno, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, who further heightened his celebrity by winning Dancing with the Stars in 2007, is a walking poster boy for the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and a victory here might be almost as popular as a Canadian win.

"I love Vancouver," Ohno said on Tuesday. "If there's one place outside of the U.S. that I would love to live, it's definitely Vancouver. I've always had a lot of great support here. I've been competing here since I was 12, 14 years old and it's a good place to be."

Ohno, in fact, learned to speed skate in Canada when his father, Yuki, who owns a hair salon in Seattle, would drive his son up on weekends.

"I learned how to speed skate by watching the Canadian skaters and just trying to mimic what they do and their styles," he said.

Ohno said there is not a single rink in Vancouver that he hasn't skated in, other than the Pacific Coliseum, and has competed all over the province.

"There was one trip when my dad and I drove all the way up to Prince George from Seattle (604 miles)," he said.

The short-track competition begins on Saturday at the Pacific Coliseum and the event may end up being a battle royale between Ohno and Canadian star Charles Hamelin of Levis, Que., the 2009 500-metre world champion and winner of four gold medals on the World Cup circuit this season.

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