SOCHI, RUSSIA – Park Seung-hi cried when the women’s Olympic short track 3,000-meter relay ended.
This time, she wept tears of joy after her South Korea team won the gold medal with a dramatic last-lap pass of China.
Four years ago in Vancouver, the South Koreans finished first, but were disqualified, leaving the skaters weeping as China was awarded the gold.
China found itself off the medals podium in Sochi on Tuesday, crossing the finish line second but getting disqualified for impeding.
“I just feel for them,” Park said through a translator. “They will have another opportunity four years later.”
Shim Suk-hee passed Li Jianrou coming out of a turn on the last of 27 laps to clinch gold for her and teammates Cho Ha-ri, Kim Alang and Park, who are the world’s top-ranked women’s relay team. South Korea has won five of seven Olympic titles in the short track relay.
“I felt really good going into the last lap,” Shim said. “I felt fast and I thought I could pass her, and it was such a thrill when I did.”
Fan Kexin, Li, Liu Qiuhong and Zhou Yang were disqualified after Zhou pushed her teammate during an exchange and then lingered on the track too long, forcing a South Korean skater to go around her.
“But according to what I saw, there were two to three meters between her and the Korean skater,” Chinese coach Li Yan said, “and a skater is allowed to go on to the track when they exchange. But the judges’ decision is the final one. We are disappointed, but we respect it.”
The Chinese were in disarray going into the final lap, anyway. Fan was supposed to skate the last lap instead of Li, but Fan wasn’t ready and Li had to exchange. After passing Li to take the lead, Shim easily outsprinted her Chinese rival to the finish.
“Our team is united, but we made mistakes this time,” Fan said.
Even retired eight-time Olympic short track medalist Apolo Anton Ohno was stunned by the chaos that is typical in short track.
“I can’t believe that,” he said. “That was crazy.”
Liu had earlier been disqualified in her 1,000 heat.
China’s DQ allowed the Canadian team of Marie-Eve Drolet, Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais and Marianne St-Gelais to take the silver medal, a boost for St-Gelais after her elimination in the 1,000 heats.
The Italian team of Arianna Fontana, Lucia Peretti, Martina Valcepina and Elena Viviani earned the bronze, giving Fontana a third medal of the Sochi Games. She earned silver in the 500 and bronze in the 1,500.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fontana, who fell in the relay. “Next year I might stop skating. It’s a great way to finish my career. It’s awesome.”
South Korea led in the early going of the relay before China took the lead with 16 laps to go. The Koreans regained the lead with seven laps to go before China went in front again with three laps left.
With two to go, Li and Shim stayed on the ice instead of swapping out and Shim powered to the lead for good, adding the gold to silver she won in the 1,500 last weekend.
“I’m happy about the silver medal, of course, but the gold means so much more because we won it together as a team,” Shim said.
Li had already won gold in the 500, while Zhou won the 1,500.
In the men’s 500, Viktor Ahn of Russia easily advanced to the quarterfinals, putting him in position to become the first skater to win an Olympic gold medal in all four individual short track events.
The South Korea-born Ahn made it safely through his heat, cheered loudly by the mostly Russian crowd at Iceberg Skating Palace. He won his adopted country’s first gold in the capricious sport in the 1,000, and earned a bronze in the 1,500. Ahn became a Russian citizen in 2011, after winning three gold medals for South Korea at the 2006 Winter Games.
In the biggest surprise, Charles Hamelin of Canada was leading on the last lap of his heat when he crashed and smashed into the pads. It appeared he caught a blade in the turn and went down. He won gold in the 1,500 on the first day of short track in Sochi.
J.R. Celski of Federal Way, Wash., was the lone American to advance in his last individual event.
Others advancing included Park Se-yeong and Lee Han-bin of South Korea, Wu Dajing, Liang Wenhao and 1,500 silver medalist Han Tianyu of China, and Vladimir Grigorev of Russia, the silver medalist in the 1,000.
Jorien ter Mors of the Netherlands was advanced to the quarterfinals of the women’s 1,000 after tripping on a falling skater, keeping alive her bid to win Olympic medals in both short and long track speedskating. The Dutchwoman already won a gold medal in the 1,500 at the big oval.
Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., and Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., also advanced. The only big name not progressing was China’s Liu, who was disqualified for impeding.