Ohno disqualified in 500-meter semis

U.S.A.'s Smith gets bronze in short-track final

Canada's Gagnon golden

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 24, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - If there is one thing that the 2002 Winter Games has shown, it's that anything can happen in short-track speed skating.

Last night certainly hammered home that point. American Rusty Smith, who was so sick with a sinus infection that he admitted he should have been in bed, won a bronze medal in the men's 500 meters, finishing just behind Canadians Marc Gagnon (gold) and Jonathan Guilmette (silver).

Even more interesting was what befell Smith's famous teammate, Apolo Anton Ohno, who was disqualified in the semifinals for impeding the progress of Japan's Satoru Terao.

"I can't even speak, it's just incredible," said Smith, who was coughing heavily on the medal stand. "I was so sick I probably shouldn't have practiced all week, but nothing was going to keep me out of this race."

Gagnon and Guilmette also helped Canada win the gold medal in the 5,000-meter relay with a dominating performance, finishing well ahead of Italy (silver) and Japan (bronze). Gagnon became the most decorated man in Olympic short-track history with four medals.

"You have to find a dream to work for, and that's what I did," Gagnon said.

In the women's 1,000-meter final, Yang Yang (A) won her second gold medal of the games, finishing just ahead of Korea's Ko Gi-hyun. Yang Yang (S) of China won the bronze. Earlier in the games, Yang (A) became the first Chinese athlete to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics, finishing first in the 500 meters. She is also the Olympic and world-record holder in the event.

"I feel wonderful," said Yang (A). "Long live China. After my gold medal in the 500, I felt like I could relax. There was less pressure on me."

Yang Yang and Yang Yang each have the same name but are distinguished by the letter after their name, which represents the month they were born in. Yang (A) was born in August; Yang (S) was born in September.

There was plenty of pressure on Ohno, who came into the games with the goal of winning four medals (he won two). Even had he not been disqualified, Ohno still would have had a difficult time qualifying for the 500-meter final thanks to a poor start. The gold medalist in the 1,500 meters and silver medalist in the 1,000, Ohno tried valiantly to get back into the race, but he bumped Terao on the next-to-last lap, sending the skater careening into the padded wall.

"I was trying to set [Terao] up on the inside, but I tried to hold the track and ran out of room," Ohno said. "It was a fair call [to disqualify me]. I knew I had a little downfall after my start. I didn't really get off the line too well."

Ohno wasn't the only casualty of the night. Kim Dong-sung, who filed a formal protest this week after he was disqualified for cross-tracking Ohno while winning the 1,500 meters, was eliminated in the semifinals in a photo finish with Gagnon.

"It was tough," said Kim, who declined further comment.

Defending Olympic 500-meter gold medalist Takafumi Nishitani of Japan was also eliminated when he slipped in the quarterfinals and crashed into the wall. In the 5,000 relay, Smith fell victim to bad luck as well, crashing into the wall en route to a fourth-place finish for the United States.

There was some criticism of NBC before the games that the network was trying too hard to hype Ohno as a star, but the truth is, no matter where he finished, Ohno delivered excitement every time he stepped on the ice in Salt Lake City.

In the 1,000 meters, Ohno was leading 15 meters from the finish, but he had to settle for silver when a last-lap crash sent the top three racers into the wall. In the 1,500, Ohno won gold despite finishing second when Kim was disqualified.

Even Ohno's preliminary races had the audience on the edge of their seats thanks to his go-for-broke style of racing. In his preliminary 500-meter heat, he held off Simon van Vossel of Belgium by less than a foot at the finish to advance to the quarterfinals, and in the quarters he needed a daring pass with two laps to go to get in position to advance.

"I'm not disappointed at all," said Ohno, 19. "I came into my first Olympics and had the best performance of my life. The crowd was amazing for all of my races. I'm walking away happy."

Smith may walk away even happier. Despite being a two-time Olympian, Smith was somewhat forgotten, thanks to the long shadow cast by Ohno. But it will be hard to forget how he courageously coughed his way to a bronze medal.

"I'm so proud to be an American," Smith said. "The home crowd was so amazing. They gave me an extra boost tonight. It was an amazing feeling."

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