Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the golden boys of the U.S. Olympic team, a handsome, 19-year-old speedskater who could win four gold medals in the Salt Lake City Games.
Now, with less than a month to go before the opening ceremony, he's at the center of race-fixing allegations that have tarnished his reputation and ? in the worst-case scenario ? could knock him off the short-track team.
A skater who didn't make the team, Tommy O'Hare, filed a complaint alleging Ohno conspired with teammate Rusty Smith to fix a race in the U.S. Olympic trials last month.
On Tuesday, The (Cleveland) Plain-Dealer reported that Ron Biondo, who also competed in the disputed race, essentially backed up O'Hare's version of events.
"To me, the Olympics are fake," said Biondo, who made the Olympic team but will only skate in the relay.
Ohno has denied any wrongdoing in the Dec. 22 race ? the final event of the short-track trials and the only one he didn't win.
Ohno already had locked up his spot on the team and said he didn't want to risk an injury with a daring move. He finished third behind Smith and race winner Shani Davis, whose victory knocked O'Hare off the team.
"It was a fair race," Heather Novickis, Ohno's agent, said Tuesday. "One of his goals was to finish the race. That's what he did. He didn't have to win. He didn't have to push himself. To him, it's a done deal. It's over and he's focused on Salt Lake."
Biondo finished fourth in the 1,000-meter final. He had to beat Smith to qualify for one of the two individual spots on the team, but claims that Ohno kept blocking him so that Smith would get it.
According to Biondo, Smith reciprocated by letting Davis ? a close friend of Smith and Ohno ? win the race. Davis, the first black to make the U.S. speedskating team, had to finish first to earn enough points to overtake O'Hare for the sixth and final spot.
O'Hare, a 1988 Olympian, didn't make the 1,000 final.
In his complaint, O'Hare says that Ohno and Smith broke U.S. Speedskating's code of conduct and should be thrown off the Olympic team, and that O'Hare should be given a spot.
"He's worked very hard to pursue his Olympic dream and he continues to work hard training in hopes that Olympic ideals will win out," said John Collins, O'Hare's attorney.
Ohno did not return a message left at his home in Colorado Springs, but his father, Yuki Ohno, said the allegations are "outrageous."
"The Olympics are so positive for him, but then there's a very ugly side to it," the elder Ohno said Tuesday.
He said his son won't be affected by the allegations when he steps on the ice in Salt Lake City.
"He's really preparing to be on the podium at the Games," Yuki Ohno said. "That's his major focus right now. He doesn't worry about the other stuff."
While Biondo believes the race was fixed by Ohno and Smith, he does not think there's enough tangible evidence to prove it.
"On one hand I feel, yeah, they should be on the team, they earned it," Biondo told the Cleveland newspaper. "But if it was football and they threw a game, they would be kicked out of the sport. I am just glad I'm not the one to make that decision."
On Tuesday, attorneys for O'Hare and U.S. Speedskating worked out the details of a hearing before an independent arbitrator.
The hearing will be held Jan. 22-23 in Colorado Springs, allowing enough time for a decision to be made before the Jan. 28 deadline for the American team to be submitted to the International Olympic Committee.
The Winter Games begin Feb. 8.
There's a chance the arbitration hearing won't be held at all. U.S. Speedskating claims that any evidence of blocking or team skating should have been handled by the referees on the day of the race.
The arbitrator will hold a preliminary hearing Friday to decide if he even has jurisdiction over the dispute.
"We feel that for better or worse, the racing rules say those violations have to be called by the officials during the race or immediately after," said Steve Smith, an attorney for U.S. Speedskating. "When the officials failed to call them, that pretty much closed the book on that."
In short-track, four skaters zip around a hockey rink, competing against each other instead of the clock.
"His main goal was to block me," Biondo said of Ohno. "I'd pass him and then he would pass me. As soon as he would get in front of me, he'd slow down. I thought there was nothing I could do."
Biondo also claims that Ohno yelled, "Don't pass! Don't pass!" during the race, a message Biondo believes was directed at Smith.
Collins said he has several witnesses prepared to testify for O'Hare, but Biondo is the only one to come forward.
"I don't feel like I'm in a very good position at all," Biondo said. "I kind of feel that no matter what the outcome, I feel like I'm going to be the next one to be blackballed."