Ohno's bid for gold medal comes crashing to a halt

American gets tangled up, has to settle for silver

February 17, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - As it turned out, the worst place Apolo Anton Ohno could have been going into the last 50 meters of last night's 1,000-meter final in short-track speed skating was in the lead.

Last place, in fact, would have been ideal. Just seconds from claiming his first Olympic gold medal, Ohno got tangled up and undercut by China's Jiajun Li, causing the skating equivalent of a three-car pile-up.

Australia's Steven Bradbury, good fortune's man of the hour, casually avoided the carnage and won a race he would have likely finished last in. Ohno finished second, crawling, not skating, across the finish line. Mathieu Turcotte of Canada also managed to scramble across the line to finish third.

Crazy? Yes. But such pile-ups are commonplace in short-track races. Most of the audience at the Salt Lake Ice Center erupted in boos when replays showed Li's right arm crashing into Ohno, essentially pulling him to the ground and into the padded wall. Li was disqualified, which was of little consolation to Ohno. He didn't show it during the medal ceremony, however, as the crowd treated him like the victor.

China's Yang Yang (A) won the gold medal in the 500 meters for the women, blitzing past everyone with a time of 44.187. Evgenia Radanova of Bulgaria grabbed the silver, while China's Chunlu Wang got the bronze.

Yang's victory was impressive as well as interesting. Yang has a teammate of the same name, Yang Yang (S), who didn't compete in the 500. The women are distinguished by the letter that follows their name; Yang Yang (S) because she was born in September, and Yang Yang (A) because she was born in August.

Korea's Dong-Sung Kim (gold in 1998 Olympics) and Li (silver in 1998) both got bounced against the wall in the semifinals thanks to some tight racing. Li and Kim got tangled up on the fourth lap, sending Kim sprawling into the padded wall. Then, just meters from the finish, Li got tangled up with Turcotte, crashing both of them. Referees determined Turcotte and Li's path was impeded by Japan's Naoya Tamura, and he was advanced to the final.

Whether Ohno was toying with the crowd or just waiting to make his move until late in the race wasn't clear, but in the quarterfinals he gave everyone - including NBC - a heck of a scare. With three laps to go in a nine-lap race, Ohno was still fourth out of four racers. But Ohno exploded with two laps to go, zipping through the pack and into the lead to win easily.

Ohno's luck wasn't entirely bad last night. He was certainly more fortunate teammate Rusty Smith, at least in his quarterfinal draw. Smith, who set an Olympic record during heats on Wednesday, got stuck in a draw with Kim and Li of China, and though he was plenty fast, it didn't matter. Kim, who won the gold medal in the 1000 meters in Nagano, and Li, who won the silver, looked nearly perfect.

American Caroline Hallisey, whose first-lap crash in the 3,000 relay knocked the United States out of the quarterfinals, came back to gain some personal redemption in the 500 meters, finishing fifth.

Five-time Olympian Amy Peterson, who carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony, finished third in her quarterfinal and failed to advance.

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