When Ohno was only 14, he trained with Pat Wentland, the U.S. national speedskating coach, in Lake Placid, New York. Away from home and his friends, Ohno rebelled against the rigors of training, choosing to eat pizza instead of complete required runs. In 1997, Ohno scored his first major victory, winning the U.S. short-track championship.
Many believed Ohno would be a shoo-in for the 1998 U.S. Olympic team, but he made a disappointing showing at the Olympic trials. After the trials, his father took him to an isolated cabin in Washington to give him time to contemplate his future away from any distractions. Only 15 years old, Ohno faced a difficult decision regarding whether to continue competing. During his week of solitude, he decided to become more disciplined, and to train harder to excel at his sport.
With his newly found dedication, Ohno went to become the overall champion at the 1999 Junior World Championships and at the 2000-2001 World Cup. Making the 2002 Olympic team, he scored silver and gold at the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the 1,000-meter event, Ohno was injured when several skaters crashed, but he was able to complete the race to win a silver medal. A disqualification led to his first gold medal, when a South Korean skater was found to have illegally blocked Ohno from passing him.
Continuing his career as a superior skater, Ohno earned the title of overall champion at the 2002-2003 and 2004-2005 World Cup events. He also won gold for the 1,000-meter and 3,000-meter events at the 2005 World Championships. Returning to Olympic competition in 2006, Ohno won gold in the 500-meter event. He scored two bronze medals for the 1,000-meter and 5,000-meter relay competitions.