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

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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

Who is Apolo Ohno’s Mother?

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Competing in the Olympics can shine a spotlight not only on your talents, but your family life, too. Who is in the stands cheering you on? Is it both your mother or father, or are they divorced? Are you estranged from one parent or the other?

Just like the summer Olympics in Beijing when we watched Michael Phelps being cheered on by his mother — the public learning that his parents are divorced and Phelps estranged from his father — viewers watched American speed skater Apolo Ohno and his father, Yuki Ohno (pictured below) with curiosity.

While Japanese-born Yuki was seen everywhere with his son and is famously his strongest supporter, Apolo’s mother was nowhere to be seen, with no mention of her.

Information on Apolo’s mother is scant. She is described as a Caucasian-American woman named Jerrie Lee. She was married to Yuki, but they divorced in 1983 when Apolo was barely a year old. Yuki had his own hair salon in Seattle, Washington at the time and was working long hours.

The divorcing couple agreed that “little Apolo would be better off with a father who worked 12-hour days and had no relatives to help him,” reports Sports Illustrated in a 2002 article.

Apolo told Sports Illustrated that he has no interest in learning about his mother, or the half-brother who is 10 years older than him. “There’s no story about her,” Yuki told Sports Illustrated. “No story. It’s insignificant to what he is now. We’ve got to keep it that way.”

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians

Written by Asianista

February 23, 2010 at 1:10 am