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Women's relay team puts together golden race in short track

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Published : 2014-02-19 04:43
Updated : 2014-02-19 09:04

With three laps to go in the women's 3,000-meter short track relay on Tuesday, South Korea trailed China by a substantial margin and seemed headed toward an inevitable second place.

That's when Shim Suk-hee went to work.

The 17-year-old anchor for the relay team reached deep and conjured up every bit of energy in her lithe, 173-centimeter frame. She zipped past Li Jianrou on the outer side of the track in the final lap, a daring move that stunned the Chinese in a nail-biting finish.

Shim and her three teammates, Cho Ha-ri, Park Seung-hi and Kim A-lang, gave South Korea its first short track gold medal in Sochi, and its second overall.

South Korea now has two gold medals, as well as one silver and one bronze.

It was the country's 20th Olympic short track title, more than any other nation since short track became a medal sport in 1992, and extended an impressive streak for South Korea. It is the only nation to have won at least one short track gold at every Olympics.

The victory had elements of redemption on many levels, too.

In Vancouver four years ago, South Korea finished the women's relay in first place with what would have been a world record time, but was later disqualified for impeding a Chinese skater. China moved up to gold, snapping South Korea's streak of four straight Olympic relay victories.

This year, with Cho and Park back on the relay unit, there was no such dispute. In fact, it was the Chinese team that received a penalty for impeding a South Korean skater and missed the podium despite finishing the race right behind the champ.

Park, the bronze medalist in the 500m last week, battled through a knee injury she sustained in the crash-filled 500m final.

She was in the clear lead early on but when two skaters behind her got tangled up, they tipped Park and took the South Korean down with them. Park tried to get back to her skates and fell for a second time.

She finished the race in fourth place and moved up to bronze following a disqualification ruling of another skater. South Korean fans felt Park deserved the gold medal, and her graciousness in the aftermath -- refusing to blame rival skaters for her failure to win gold -- made Park an instant fan favorite.

Park didn't need to wonder what might have been on Tuesday as she earned the coveted Olympic gold.

Shim also got her first career Olympic gold, something that many felt she should have won last week in the 1,500m. She had been the heavy favorite to win that race, but she lost her lead with two laps left and settled for silver, as Zhou Yang of China snatched the gold medal.

The result left the teenager in tears, but Shim came back with a vengeance in the relay. She returned the favor against the Chinese this time, erasing Li's late lead in a hurry.

"I wanted to be more aggressive this time than I was in the 1,500m" Shim said. "My teammates cheered me on and that lifted pressure off of me. I was able to skate with confidence from start to finish."

On Tuesday, Shim shed tears of joy and said it wasn't just because her team defeated China.

"Memories of all those difficult moments we had as a team came flooding back to me," Shim said. "It's great to be able to smile and enjoy this victory together now."

Shim and her teammates aren't finished. Shim, Park and Kim advanced to the quarterfinals in the 1,000m earlier on Tuesday. Shim and Kim are ranked first and second this season in the distance.

The South Korean men are in danger of getting shut out of short track medals for only the second time, and Park Se-yeong and Lee Han-bin reached the quarters in the 500m on Tuesday to keep their hopes alive. Though the 500m hasn't been South Korea's forte, the competition appears wide open this year after Charles Hamelin of Canada, one of the title favorites, fell during his heat and missed the quarterfinals.

The South Koreans will still have to contend with Viktor Ahn of Russia, the 1,000m champion. Born Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, the 28-year-old became a Russian citizen in 2011 and has resurfaced as a force in Sochi after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.

Elsewhere in Sochi on Tuesday, speed skater Lee Seung-hoon finished fourth in the men's 10,000m in 13:11.68, more than 27 seconds behind the champion, Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands.

Lee entered the race as the reigning Olympic champion but came up well short of repeating his performance. At the start of the Olympics here, Lee ranked a disappointing 12th in the 5,000m, after winning silver in the same event four years earlier. His final chance for a medal will come in the team pursuit event that begins with quarterfinals on Friday.

Lee said afterward he had expected a better result, based on how well he'd raced in training, but admitted he tired after the first 5,000m.

"I was racing in the 12:40 range in practices, and I felt I could go up against the Dutch skaters," he said. "But I gave my best and I was better today than I was in the 5,000m. I have no regrets."

He said he was looking forward to the team pursuit race. He picked the Netherlands as the favorite, and predicted South Korea, Russia, Poland and Germany will be fighting for two other spots on the podium.

"My teammates are in great form and I have faith in them," he said. "It's the most fun race for me. I am going to try to win a medal there."

Also on Tuesday, Kim So-hui finished in 53rd place in the women's giant slalom alpine skiing. The women's bobsleigh duo of Kim Sun-ok and Shin Mi-hwa ranked 19th, dead last in the field, after the first two of four races, with the combined time of 2:00.11. The final two races are set for Wednesday. (Yonhap)

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