With a breathtaking finish, South Korea captured the gold medal in the women's 3,000-meter relay short track at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
The team of Cho Ha-ri, Kim A-lang, Park Seung-hi and Shim Suk-hee claimed South Korea's first short track gold medal in Sochi, and its second gold overall. They finished the 27-lap race in 4:09.498.
Canada took the silver in 4:10.641 and Italy earned the bronze in 4:14.014. China finished the relay in second place but received a penalty for interference.
|The members of Korean women’s short track speedskating team embrace each other after winning in a 3,000m relay final at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Tuesday. (Yonhap)|
South Korea opened the race in the lead, and stayed in front over the first 10 laps. China then took over, and South Korea fell to third behind China and Canada with 13 laps remaining.
Kim then made a move to take second place behind China, and Park reclaimed the lead for South Korea with nine laps left.
Cho opened some distance with six laps remaining, but China wouldn't go away. With three laps left, Fan Kexin charged out in the lead and China stayed there.
South Korea looked destined for second place, but Shim overtook Li Jianrou, the 500m gold medalist last week, in the final lap for the gold medal.
Kong Sang-jeong, a fifth member of the team who sat out the final, will also receive the gold medal for having raced in the semifinals.
The victory on Tuesday represents a measure of redemption for South Korea. The country won four straight women's relay gold medals starting in 1994, but the streak ended unceremoniously in 2010 with a controversial disqualification ruling in the final.
The quartet of Cho Ha-ri, Park Seung-hi, Kim Min-jung and Lee Eun-byul finished the race first, in what would have been a world record time, but was stripped of the medal for impeding a Chinese skater during the race. China got the gold instead.
Cho and Park returned for their second straight Winter Games and successfully laid the groundwork for a new winning streak.
South Korea has now won 20 gold medals in short track since it became a medal sport in 1992, more than any other nation. It is the only country to have won at least one short track gold at every Olympics.
After the race, Shim said she was confident that she could skate past the Chinese skater in the final stretch.
"As soon as my turn came, I wanted to go all out," she said. "I kept thinking to myself, 'I can do this.'"
Shim won the silver medal in the 1,500m earlier, but did so after losing her lead late in the race against Zhou Yang of China. Shim said she wanted to be "more aggressive" in the relay than in the 1,500m.
"I tried not to lose my concentration until I crossed the finish line," Shim said. "It's thrilling to beat China, but I am more pleased that we won this as a team."
The teary Park said the victory brought back painful memories from four years ago.
"I am thinking of my relay teammates from back then," she said. "I want to enjoy this with them."
Park injured her right knee in a fall during the 500m final and missed the 1,500m race earlier. She said she still wasn't 100 percent before the start of the relay.
"I debated a lot whether I should skate tonight," Park said. "I was worried I might make some mistakes."
Cho, a carryover from Vancouver, was also reduced to tears. This was the first Olympic gold for Cho, the oldest member of the relay team at age 27.
"I've been so unlucky at Olympics and I just wanted any medal, no matter what color," she said. "I never imagined I'd be rewarded with a gold medal. Winning it as a team makes it that much more special."
Earlier on Tuesday, Park Seung-hi, Shim Suk-hee and Kim A-lang each cruised to the quarterfinals in the women's 1,000m. The quarterfinals, the semifinals and the finals will all take place on Friday.
In the men's competition, Park Se-yeong and Lee Han-bin advanced to the quarters in the 500m. Their quarterfinals, the semifinals and the finals are also scheduled for Friday.
Viktor Ahn of Russia also made it out of the men's heats and remained on course to win his third medal in Sochi. Born in South Korea, Ahn won three Olympic gold medals for his native country in 2006, but became a Russian citizen and changed his name from
Hyun-soo in 2011. He'd earlier won the gold in the 1,000m, Russia's first Olympic short track title, and the bronze in the 1,500m.
With four career gold medals, Ahn is the most decorated male short tracker in Olympic history.
No South Korean man has won a medal in short track so far in Sochi, and the 500m is the last chance. Lee and Sin Da-woon both came up short in the 1,000m and 1,500m races, and the men's 5,000m relay team crashed out of the semifinals last week.
The men's 500m has been one of South Korean men's weaker links, with just one gold and two silver in five Olympics. South Korea was last shut out of medals in the men's short track in 2002. (Yonhap)