SOCHI, RUSSIA – China’s Li Jianrou steered clear of a three-skater pile-up to sprint to gold in the women’s 500-meter short track at the Winter Olympics on Thursday.
Two-time defending champion Wang Meng missed the Sochi Games after breaking her ankle, but Li ensured the title stayed in Chinese hands for a fourth straight Olympics after her three rivals crashed on the first lap of the 4.5-lap final.
The 27-year-old coasted home in 45.263 seconds to finish nearly six seconds ahead of Italy’s Arianna Fontana, the bronze medalist from Vancouver in 2010, who took silver in 51.250.
Despite an initial false start Park Seung-hi of South Korea took bronze in 54.207. It was the third Olympic bronze for Park, 21, after medals in the 1,000 and 1,500 in Vancouver.
“I believe it’s a miracle,” said five-time world champion Li, who is competing at her first Olympics. “I always believe in myself. I’m lucky to get this gold medal.”
Officials ruled that Britain’s Elise Christie caused the crash, and she was disqualified minutes after the race. China’s Liu Qiuhong was fourth.
Pre-race favorite Fan Kexin, a two-time world champion over the distance, failed to qualify for the final, along with Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais, the 2010 runner-up.
There were two big shocks earlier in the men’s 5,000 relay semifinals at the Iceberg Skating Palace as neither defending champion Canada nor 2010 silver medalist South Korea qualified for the Feb. 21 final.
With just five laps remaining, America’s Eduardo Alvarez and South Korea’s Lee Ho-suk crashed, with Dutch and Kazakh skaters narrowly avoiding the carnage.
The Dutch held on to cross first, followed by Kazakhstan, with South Korea recovering to finish third ahead of the United States.
Referees later advanced the United States to the A final at the expense of South Korea.
In the second semifinal, China lead for most of the race until a deft passing move by Viktor Ahn on the final lap gave Russia victory.