Veteran short track skater raises concerns about relay decision
China's victory in the inaugural mixed team relay at the 2022 Beijing Games on Saturday due to a refereeing technicality has left Korean skaters wary with two relay events still to come.
Kwak Yoon-gy, Korea's most-experienced short track speed skater, on Sunday questioned the fairness of china's inclusion in the final after the team initially fell out of the competition in the semifinal heat.
Korea crashed out of the mixed team relay quarterfinals on Saturday, leaving eight countries including China and the United States to advance to the semifinals. There were two semifinal heats, with China, the United States, Russia and Hungary competing in the second heat.
Hungary crossed the finish line first, followed by the United States, Russia and China in fourth place. With two teams advancing, Hungary and the United States appeared to have secured a spot in the gold medal race.
However, after a lengthy video review, judges decided that the United States would be penalized for "blocking by infield skater" and Russia would be penalized for "extra team skater causing obstruction.” The decision disqualified the United States and Russia, enabling China to advance to the final race despite coming in last in the semifinals. China went on to win the gold medal.
Both the United States and Russia did commit the infractions there were accused of, but, considering the chaotic nature of relay events, some leeway in the enforcement of the rules is normally expected. There are also suggestions that the rules were unfairly applied, as China was not penalized for what appeared to be a contactless exchange during the race.
“I've never seen such a situation,” Kwak told reporters after training on Sunday.
"I watched the semifinals in person, and I thought three teams, China, Russia and the United States would be disqualified. The Dutch players, who were watching from behind, said the same thing. I had a bad feeling as the video reading was prolonged. It was a situation that was hard to accept."
Missing an exchange is sufficient reason for disqualification. Whenever an athlete trips before an exchange during short track relays, the next athlete who was waiting for the touch sprints to the fallen athlete to make the touch before starting their lap.
During the mixed team quarterfinals on Saturday, Korea’s Hwang Dae-heon had to quickly do an empty lap to reach Park Jang-hyuk, who had fallen, before Hwang could officially start his own lap .
“I haven't seen games proceed without a proper exchange until now,” Kwak said.
“According to the mixed relay rules, you have to do at least half an empty lap to tag the next player in case of a missed exchange. If other countries were in such a situation, would they have been able to reach the finals?"
This may come as a red flag to Team Korea with many more races left on their schedule.
"It was a decision that had nothing to do with the Korean national team, but I thought, if we were in such a situation, I think it would have felt so unfair,” Kwak said.
“I felt bad that we had to watch that process and I questioned if this was what winning a gold medal, something that I dreamed of, was supposed to be about.”
Kwak has voiced his concerns about stringent judging at the Olympics in the past. Even before the Games began, the veteran skater said that he was worried about tough decisions.
“I have already experienced at the first World Cup that the Beijing Games are going to be tough," Kwak said during training ahead of the Games. "The atmosphere is tense to the extent that we are saying that we could be disqualified even with the slightest breeze.”
The Korean short track team will compete in both remaining short track relay events, the women’s 3000-meter relay and men’s 5000-meter relay, where Kwak will compete alongside Kim Dong-wook, Lee June-seo, Park and Hwang.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]