|Li Jianrou (center) of China took the gold while Fontana (left) and Park Seung-hi each won the silver and the bronze. (Yonhap)|
Park Seung-hi fell down and she got up. She fell for the second time, and she got up again.
The 21-year-old short tracker stayed on her skates long enough to win the bronze medal in the women's 500 meters on Thursday at the Sochi Winter Games. It was South Korea's second medal in Sochi, and its first in short track at these ongoing Winter Games.
Park survived the nervy final in which three of the four skaters fell to the ice even before they could complete their first lap.
Undaunted by an earlier false start, Park stormed out to take an early lead at Iceberg Skating Palace. All hell broke loose barely 10 seconds into the race, as Elise Christie of Britain, jostling for position behind Park, wiped out Arianna Fontana of Italy.
Skating out in front, Park also lost her balance and crashed into the wall. She was still ahead of Christie and Fontana and had a chance to take the second place behind Li Jianrou of China, but the South Korean never had full balance and dropped on all fours.
Park finished the race last, but moved up to bronze after Christie was penalized for initiating contact in the incident.
South Korea has collected 19 short track gold medals, more than any other nation since it became a medal sport in 1992, but the women's 500ｍ remains the only event South Korea has never won. Park shed tears of disappointment in the immediate aftermath, but said later, in smiles, that she was satisfied with the medal.
It was Park's third Olympic medal. She won bronze medals in the 1,000ｍ and the 1,500ｍ in Vancouver in 2010. However, the disqualification of the women's 3,000ｍ relay team in the final overshadowed Park's accomplishments then.
That relay squad finished the race with what would have been a world record time. Though Park failed to redeem herself and capture the coveted Olympic gold, she said she valued the bronze just as much.
Clearly, the magnitude of winning the country's first medal in the women's 500ｍ in 16 years wasn't lost on Park.
"Four years ago, I was quite disappointed," she said. "Today, I am proud of myself."
Park's hard-fought bronze came at a cost. She sustained a right knee injury in the incident and her coach, Yoon Jae-myung, said Park will miss the 1,500ｍ heats on Saturday. She may also sit out the 1,000ｍ heats and the 3,000ｍ relay final next week.
Park's wasn't the only fall for the South Korean short track team on Thursday. The men's 5,000ｍ relay team was leading the semifinal race with four laps to go, when Lee Ho-suk came in contact with Eduardo Alvarez of the United States as both skaters
slipped and rammed into the wall.
The Netherlands and Kazakhstan earned two automatic berths in the final, and the U.S. team earned an extra spot in the final after judges determined that Lee had interfered with Alvarez.
The South Korean team, featuring Seung-hi's young brother, Park Se-young, will go up against Italy and Canada in the B final.
Not all was lost for the men's team, as Sin Da-woon and Lee Han-bin advanced to the quarterfinals in the 1,000ｍ.
There was decidedly much less drama in the women's 1,000ｍ speedskating at Adler Arena Skating Center, where Lee Sang-hwa, the 500ｍ champion from Tuesday, finished in 12th place in 1:15.94, nearly two full seconds back of the champion, Zhang Hong of China.
It was a ho-hum race for Lee, who defended her 500ｍ gold medal in an Olympic record time of 74.70 seconds. She has often said the 1,000ｍ isn't her specialty and she sees it as her "bonus" race.
Park Seung-ju, the third and the oldest member of the Park clan in Sochi, finished in 31st place.
Elsewhere in Sochi on Thursday, the women's curling team defeated Russia 8-4 to even its record at 2-2 in the round robin play.
Against the Olympic host, South Korea was clinging to a 4-3 lead through six ends, and blew things wide open with three points in the seventh end, thanks to a perfect takeout by skip Kim Ji-sun. Russia cut the lead by one in the next end but South Korea responded with a point in the ninth end for a comfortable four-point lead.
South Korea will next face China on Friday.
In cross-country, Lee Chae-won finished the women's 10㎞ classic event in 51st place out of 75 skiers. In biathlon, Lee In-bok was 73rd among 88 in the men's individual 20㎞ race.
The luge team of Sung Eun-ryung, Kim Dong-hyeon, Park Jin-yong and Cho Jung-myung ranked last among a dozen countries in the team relay competition. (Yonhap)