Turner short-tracked by judges, irate rivals LILLEHAMMER '94

February 27, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- We can't bob. We can't luge. We can't ski and shoot rifles at the same time, either.

But we are a short-track speed skating power.

And we are feared.

China hates us. Canada, too.

They even send nasty E-mail messages to America's skating heroine, Cathy Turner.

Last night, the Americans closed the show in the high-speed, high-impact world of the short track.

The men's 5,000-meter relay team won a silver medal that gave the United States a record 13th medal at the Winter Olympics.

It was the best U.S. team performance ever, surpassing the 12 medals won in 1932 and 1980 at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Back then, however, the Olympic program wasn't cluttered with sports like . . . short-track speed skating.

But Turner, the petite, sharp-elbowed and hot-tempered star of the American team, was disqualified in her semifinal heat of the women's 1,000 when she bumped South Korea's Kim So-Hee.

Also in the heat was Turner's irate rival, China's Zhang Yanmei. Thursday, Zhang tossed a bouquet of flowers in disgust and carried around her silver medal like it was trash after losing a ferociously fought 500 to Turner.

The Chinese team protested the outcome, but Turner, regarded by many as the sport's Roller Derby queen, kept the gold.

This time, she was disqualified for "cross-tracking."

"I'm just a victim," said Turner, who has four career Olympic medals. "I am an aggressive skater and I won fair and square and there's just a bunch of sore losers around."

Turner says she thinks yesterday's disqualification was sort of a makeup call.

"I feel the judges were just waiting to take care of what the Canadians and Chinese were making such a big deal about."

The sport is in deep trouble with the International Olympic Committee. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president, was not amused by the ruckus in the arena over Turner. But the sport has vowed to clean up its image, even going so far as using television replays to call fouls. But for now, this remains a no-holds-barred adventure on ice.

And Turner, a former lounge singer and star of the Ice Capades revue, is the designated villain.

She said that after her victory in the 500 she received a message on the Olympic computer system that said, in part, "Take a look in the mirror and tell me you can be proud. From all Canadians, go to hell."

"I'm not having fun and this is supposed to be fun," Turner said. "I was looking forward to skating here, but after all this nonsense, it's not fun."

After Turner was disqualified, her rivals rejoiced.

"I was happy she was disqualified," said Canada's Nathalie Lambert, who had a bump-in with Turner in the 500. "And justice was done, not just for me, but for other skaters."

There was a different sort of justice in the men's 5,000.

Andy Gabel, America's best sprinter, finally won an Olympic medal as part of the relay. The silver came only an hour after Gabel was elbowed out of the 500 quarterfinal by China's Li Jiajun.

"I went through every emotion," Gabel said. "I was depressed. I was thinking about coming back four years from now. I was thinking about quitting. I've been waiting a long time for this. I had tears in my eyes when I was getting my skates sharpened one last time."

With Eric Flaim, Randy Bartz and John Coyle, Gabel went out and raced in the 45-lap event staged in a hockey-sized rink.

Around and around and around the four teams went, the Canadians and Australians with a bunch of guys with ponytails, the Italians strategically trailing the pack.

With 20 laps to go, the Canadians fell.

"And I knew we had to get a medal," Gabel said.

The Italians broke away first for the gold, finally finishing in 7 minutes, 11.74 seconds. With two laps to go, Flaim rocketed into second and the U.S. team had its silver.

"This medal is just as sweet as my first," said Flaim, a former long-tracker who won a silver in the 1,500 in 1988.

The Australian bronze was pretty big, too. It's the first Winter Olympics medal in that country's history.

As they walked to the victory stand, the skaters heard the news that they had put the United States over the top in the medal count.

"Pretty cool," Flaim said.

Gabel just smiled.

"I had to make up for lost chances," he said. "To tell you the truth, I was more worried about my medal count."

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