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Exclusive: Apolo Ohno on IRONMAN, an Olympic comeback and Karina Smirnoff

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When the IRONMAN World Championship Triathlon rolls around on Oct. 11, storied Olympic short track champion Apolo Ohno will be among the mass of talented athletes positioned at the starting line. The eight-time Olympic medalist is partnering with the Built With Chocolate Milk Campaign to tackle the grueling competition, which takes place in scenic Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and challenges the world's most dedicated endurance athletes to complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run in less than 17 hours.

Ohno's journey from short track speedskater to long-distance super athlete will be chronicled via an eight-part web series called "Mission Apolo: Built with Chocolate Milk." Available for viewing via gotchocolatemilk.com, the documentary series will follow Ohno's IRONMAN preparation process and give insights into the science that supports using plain milk's cousin as an athletic training aid.

Examiner spoke exclusively with Ohno on April 23. The dedicated athlete opened up about his training regimen, whether or not he'll make an Olympic comeback, and his time as a celebrity contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," and he even threw a special challenge out to his "DWTS: All Stars" dance partner Karina Smirnoff.

You're a decorated Olympian, a "Dancing with the Stars" champion, a TV commentator. You've already done so much and you're only in your early 30s. So what compelled you to train for the IRONMAN?

Ohno: I'm four years retired from my Olympic pursuits as an athlete. The IRONMAN is the most coveted out of all the endurance races in the world. It's held once a year in Kona, Hawaii, in the most incredible, beautiful location on the planet in my opinion. It's a test of will, perseverance, endurance, mental strength, physical strength and more, so to me it's the ultimate challenge. I'm looking forward to it. I'm naturally not an endurance athlete but post-career, you're always looking for new challenges and opportunities to better yourself, and this is something I think that is not right up my alley --it's completely opposite of what I'm used to doing-- but I'm willing to take on this challenge.

I watched Hines Ward compete last year in this process and watched his entire transformation period which was really incredible. Watching from when he started weighing like 230 and then going down to 190 in body weight, and being lean and being fit, and breaking against all odds in completing the IRONMAN in... 13 hours. And I'm looking to do the same thing.

A lot of people do these competitions with someone else in mind kind of as an inspiration. Did you have an inspiration or is this just all about challenging yourself?

Ohno: My inspiration is not just one singular person but it's perhaps the millions and thousands of people tuning in and watching this documentary that we're filming along the way. We're doing eight different webisodes, we're putting them on gotchocolatemilk.com to showcase them to the world... displaying what it's like to train for an Ironman. And hopefully it's inspiring others to do either the same or focus on their own goals or personal fitness aspirations to do better and to be more. That's something that motivates me and not only makes me accountable for my own actions in terms of training and making sure I'm staying consistent and doing the work, but also... makes sure that I'm staying inspired at the same time, because when I see or hear someone else get excited about watching or becoming inspired from something that I did it makes me want to dig deeper and push harder.

Talk a little bit about your nutrition and recovery plans.

Ohno: Sure. Using chocolate milk post-workout recovery is the single most effective and easiest way to grab something when you're in a rush or simply want to get something that's delicious. It's got a good blend of proteins, carbohydrates and electrolytes which is exactly what you need as an athlete to begin that recovery process and help build your body back up to optimal levels. You can only train as hard as you an recover, so if your body's not recovering properly, you've really gotta back off training, and so the importance of nutrition and timing post-workout foods is the most important aspect. We've obviously partnered with chocolate milk in this campaign, and it's something that I think a lot of athletes, elite and not elite, have started to use in their post-workout recovery routines.

So what's your ultimate goal with IRONMAN? Do you have time goals for each segment of the competition or do you just want to finish?

Ohno: You know, it's too early to say some time goals right now. Right now, obviously, I just want to finish, that is the ultimate goal here. But I'm sure the closer and closer I get, the better and better indication we'll have... of where I'd like to be.

Which leg of the competition seems like it'll be the most challenging for you?

Ohno: It's hard to say because they're all difficult. The run is probably going to be the most difficult given it's the end of the day, I just finished 2.4 miles in an open water swim in the ocean followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then I have to run a marathon after being completely fatigued. I think that's going to be the hardest part.

What does a typical training day look like for you?

Ohno: If I have a three sport day, meaning I swim, bike, and then run, I'll wake up very early, get a swim in the pool, go immediately to the bike, bike anywhere from two to four and a half hours, and then do a transition run from anywhere to 40 minutes to 70 minutes. That's a pretty heavy day. My so-called recovery days, when I'm not traveling, is usually like a 60-minute spin on the bike followed by a 45-minute run. So almost two hours of work for a recovery day. I'm telling you: these endurance athletes are something else. They are much different than what I'm used to.

I'm impressed. I just did a 5K and that was enough for me.

Ohno: I know what you mean. I'm used to the 5K. I like the 2K the best. [laughs]

I'm going to change gears a little. I know you've been retired from competition for four years now, but do you have any intention of pulling a Michael Phelps and going back to short track, or are you done, done, done?

Ohno: I'm pretty sure I'm done, but you never know. If I'm in good enough shape after the IRONMAN, maybe I'll give it a second thought... I miss short track. I miss it every day.

I have to ask about "Dancing with the Stars" because I'm a huge fan. Was the translation from the speedskating oval really as seamless for you as it looked?

Ohno: No! It was not seamless. I thought it was very difficult. A lot of people say that to me, 'oh, you made it look so easy,' but I worked so hard on that show [laughs]. It was so, so difficult. Dancing is not easy, and then those outfits they make you wear are very interesting. Very, very interesting. Those v-necks that I like to call a vest are, I don't know, they're a little suspect.

Where do you keep your mirror ball trophy [from season four] and all of those Olympic medals you have?

Ohno: My dad has my Olympic medals, and I believe the trophy is in Utah at my Utah house.

Are you paying any attention at all to this season of "Dancing with the Stars"?

Ohno: You know, because I've been traveling so much and training for the IRONMAN that I haven't, but the reminder is evident and I should probably tune in.

This isn't really a fair question but I'll ask it anyway. What was different about working with Karina [Smirnoff] versus working with Julianne [Hough]?

Ohno: They're just two different styles of coaching, totally different. Julianne was only 18 or 19 years old when I danced with her, and Karina [was] a little bit older --still young-- but just different. Karina was very hard-core. I'm telling you, that woman works very, very hard, and you can't outwork her. I swear she never gets tired. She would do good in the IRONMAN, actually. She's an animal.

Wow. You should contact her and tell her she should try it out then.

Ohno: I think she should. You know what? I think we just challenged her right now! [Laughs]

So we're throwing down the gauntlet: Karina Smirnoff is hereby challenged do the IRONMAN triathlon.

Ohno: I agree. Alongside me. Oh actually, I don't know, she might beat me so maybe that's not a good idea. Maybe another year [laughs].

Fans can follow Ohno's IRONMAN training progress by visiting gotchocolatemilk.com. He also offers up byte-sized bits of commentary via his official Twitter account.

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