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Pierce: Olympian Apolo Ohno now a game-show host

Published June 24, 2013 10:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Apolo Anton Ohno is the most decorated American Winter Olympian of all time. He was a hero of the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

And now he's hosting a game show. Really. "Minute to Win It" is moving to cable channel GSN (Tuesday at 6 and 7 p.m. MDT), and the winner of two gold, two silver and four bronze Olympic short-track speed skating medals will be front and center.

"It was something I've always wanted to do," Ohno said in a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "I liked the show before. I was actually strangely addicted to watching it."

Contestants take on up to 10 timed challenges involving household items — everything from quickly pulling tissues out of their boxes to using chopsticks to stack ChapStick.

"I've played every single game myself with the designers, so I know the tricks and the tips," Ohno said. "I was surprised at how many games they thought up. These guys are geniuses."

There are even parallels between the Olympics and "Minute to Win It." Ohno pointed to people who have won multiple world titles but haven't been able to medal at the Games.

"I know this from my own Olympic experience," Ohno said. "You get out there on the stage, the countdown begins and the dynamics have changed. It's for real money and the clock is counting down and you're there with the cameras and the lights. So people get very nervous.

"I feel like a coach who can't give the answers to what they need," Ohno said with a laugh. He can ask them what they did wrong; he can ask them what they'll do differently; he can't tell them either of those things.

"It kills me, because I want to see these people win," he said.

Which is one of the reasons he's good at this. And good hosts are hard to find.

Bob Barker made it look easy because he was talented. And Ohno makes it look pretty easy.

He's enthusiastic without being bellicose. He's supportive without being smarmy.

It's clear he's having fun, which makes watching "Minute to Win It" more fun to watch.

"We try to make sure everybody has a good time, whether they win a thousand dollars or a quarter million," Ohno said.

He had a few lessons to learn taping 40 episodes. Like when he lost his voice trying to be heard over the audience. "I didn't know you needed a voice coach and how you had to train yourself, so I didn't prepare for that. Now I know," he said.

It's more than a little like sportscasting, which he'll also be doing soon. He'll be in Utah for the short-track skating Olympic trials in late December-early January before heading to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 games.

"I miss Salt Lake City," Ohno said. "I trained there starting in 1999, and I love it. I had some great success there, and a lot of support. Can't wait to go back."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.