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Apolo Ohno’s Mother Was Teenager When She Gave Birth to Future Olympian

with 6 comments

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians

The fascination with Olympic short speedskater Apolo Ohno’s estranged mother shows no signs of abating.

The obsession is stoked, in part, because so little is known about her. It’s been reported that her name is Jerrie Lee, she is Caucasian, and she and Apolo’s dad, Yuki Ohno, divorced in 1983 when Apolo was only a year old.

It was unusual for the time, but when the couple divorced, it was the father who got full custody of the son, rather than the mother. This, despite the fact that Yuki owned a hair salon in Seattle, Wash., worked 12-hour days and had little time to take care of a small child. (One Halloween, little Apolo sat in his father’s salon wearing his costume, waiting to be taken trick-or-treating as it got darker and darker, and later and later. His father couldn’t leave; he had to tend to his clients.)

Why did Apolo’s father get custody? Why not his mother? Didn’t she want her baby?

One clue is revealed by a 2002 newspaper article which states that Apolo’s mother was only 18 years old when she married Yuki Ohno, a Japanese immigrant who was 37 years old at the time. When they divorced a year later when Apolo was still a baby, Yuki got custody. Maybe his teenaged mother knew she was ill-equipped to raise a child at the time.

Whatever the reason, it appears Apolo was raised with little or no contact with his mother, and hasn’t talked to her for decades. “After 19 years, it would be strange,” Apolo told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002. “I don’t have any (lost child) hotlines out for her.”

Yuki wants to keep his ex-wife out of the picture. ”There’s no story about her,” Yuki told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “No story. It’s insignificant to what he is now. We’ve got to keep it that way.”

Insignificant? No mother, whether estranged or not, is ever insignificant to a child. She may have had nothing to do with his becoming an Olympian, but as the person who gave birth to Apolo, she cannot be dismissed. Her non-presence has got be a factor in his life. It must affect him in some way that he did not experience a mother’s love while growing up.

As for the mysterious Jerrie Lee, does she watch Apolo on television when he competes in the Olympics? Did she watch several years ago when he won Dancing with the Stars? Does she think, “There is my child.” Or does she change the channel?

Short Track Speed Skating - Day 15

Written by Asianista

February 27, 2010 at 4:32 pm

6 Responses

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  1. As a father who’s ex-wife ran off with three small children 15 years ago, I am touched that you would defend the importance of Apolo’s mother to his life. I was very depressed to hear him disparage her on NBC as unimportant to him, but I also got the sense that there is deep pain in talking about this publicly. A promenent psychologist I spoke with gave me hope; he said that all children with a missing parent desparately want to meet their mother or father — someday. Undoubtedly, someday when the cameras are gone and Yuki is out of the room, Ohno will contact her.

    Scott Lloyd

    February 27, 2010 at 7:32 pm

  2. I am glad someone finally writes about his mother not being in the picture. I find it sad that he dismisses his mother and agree with Scott that he probably is just embarrassed to talk about her. Clearly, Yuki has a strong hold on Apolo – influences him greatly. I wonder if it is part of the Japanese male culture to not talk about these things, stuff feelings, etc.

    And, Apolo was shipped off to Olympic training at an early age. I wonder if he had any close female relatives. He never mentions grandparents, etc.

    Scott, you are right, every child wants and needs their mother or some other strong female presence.


    February 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  3. From what I’ve seen & heard Apolo say on various occasions, I don’t think he “dismisses” his mother. The fact is, she simply wasn’t a presence in his life. If at times he may have sounded dismissive, you have to remember this is a young man talking about a highly personal subject to the public & naturally he’s not going to reveal his innermost thoughts & show us his raw emotions. The truth of the matter is that only his father & mother know the real story behind the situation, & no one but Apolo himself knows how he truly feels- we can only assume & play psychologist. For those who have been blessed to grow up with both parents, it may be hard to conceive of not longing for an absent mother/father. Speaking from experience, you don’t spend your time dwelling on the what ifs & what could have beens & whys. Not to say you don’t experience your own brand of pain, but you work it out your own way, & spend more time appreciating the parent you do have. And if that one parent is anything like Yuki Ohno, then you have a love that’s just as good as any two people could provide.


    March 4, 2010 at 12:17 am

    • All three of you have well written thoughts.
      But I like what you said at the end of your comment Aurora; If any one parent is like Yuki has the love of both parents. You have to admit Apolo seems pretty darn balanced to me. I have worked with children for over 15 years. Two parent families can be dysfunctional by all means! The key factor here is Love,& Discipline.

      paula sue hulk

      March 4, 2010 at 9:41 am

  4. I’m sure his mother’s absence affected both their lives greatly, and things would have turned out much different if she had been in the picture more. That’s a given.

    But seriously, this is their family’s business, not ours. They don’t owe us the whole story, and I can tell by the way they answer that they’re trying to keep it that way.

    The mother certainly can come forward if she wants to at any moment and grab some major media attention, but it would seem that after three olympics she has opted for privacy as well.

    It’s natural to be curious about public figures; just realize that if you were in that position, you’d probably want certain family things kept private as well… not out of shame or pain but just out of respect.

    And finally, let me say this: I love my mama.

    jp 吉平

    March 4, 2010 at 10:40 am

  5. I think this website gavew EXACTLY what I was looking for!


    April 26, 2010 at 8:46 am

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