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Apolo Anton Ohno–A Boxing Fan!

Walter Sarnoi and skating star cheer each other on

The Winter Olympics 2010 are coming to an end with the Closing Ceremonies taking place TONIGHT in Vancouver. There were many shining moments throughout the competition, but one U.S. athlete skated to his place in history and provided several minutes in the Games’ highlight reels.

Apolo Anton Ohno certainly made his mark in the speed skating world and has received world-wide attention as he competed in his third Olympics. But one little-known fact is his connection to boxing!

Pro fighter Walter “Schoolboy” Sarnoi (4-0, 2 KOs) has been friends with the short track superstar for several years now and is both happy and proud of his compadre’s record-breaking achievements.

“I’ve known Apolo for a while since I was a student at Northern Michigan in 2005,” the super bantamweight tells me in our exclusive chat this afternoon. “I know many of the members from the past and current Olympic speed skating teams including Shani Davis and Simon Cho.” The boxer attended the university on a full-ride scholarship granted by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“Northern Michigan is where the U.S. Olympic Education Center was, and it’s where many Olympic-aspiring athletes, including myself, trained and went to school,” Walter adds, who’s nickname, by the way, is the “Schoolboy.” “Also, when I would compete or have training camps at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, we would also go out for lunch, hangout, or just talk. And most of the time when I was in Marquette, Michigan, we would go out to our favorite Thai food spot The Rice Paddy; I went there a lot, especially with Shani and Apolo.”

The Winter Games’ Opening Ceremonies took place on February 12 and during these last two weeks, Walter has enjoyed watching his pals skate to glory. “Honestly, I only paid attention to the races to keep up with Apolo, Shani, and Simon’s races because I know them on a personal basis–and it’s been amazing!” Simon captured a bronze in the men’s relay and Shani won a gold and silver medal in his competitions. The veteran, at just 27, Apolo brings home two bronzes and a silver to go along with his eight medals won during his three Olympic Games. He is the most decorated U.S. athlete in history to have participated in the Winter Olympics.

His boxing buddy thinks that Ohno could be the Brett Favre of skating. “Apolo is an incredible athlete,” Sarnoi states. “I believe if he wanted to, he can do another Olympics. But I think he’s already accomplished so much, and I think its gonna be a long time before someone breaks his record!”

The two friends, both always busy with traveling and training, have stayed in touch through the years. “We’ll talk or text like every other month,” Walter says.

So did Apolo like the sport of boxing? “Yes!” confirms his pugilist pal. “Apolo really did like boxing. He went to one of my fights as an amateur.”

Now a pro fighter, Sarnoi will step in the ring this Friday at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. Since his friend Apolo has become one of the world’s greatest athletes ever–and also the “Dancing with the Stars” 2007 Champion–I ask Walter if Ohno shared any “athlete to athlete” advice with the younger Sarnoi, 23.

He gave me great advice as an athlete, especially when it came down to taking care of our bodies,” the boxer shares. “Knowing that many athletes take their time for granted by going out late instead of resting and preparing for training can mean the difference in our performance!

“Being such a great individual, he was business minded–and always focused!”

Ohno’s discipline and focus paid off in spades. Tune in tonight to catch Apolo’s victory lap on a world-wide stage.

And tune in THIS Friday on ESPN‘s “Friday Night Fights” to catch Walter in action at Pechanga!

Photos courtesy of Walter Sarnoi

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