Hwang takes gold as short track skaters shake off early disappointment
Hwang Dae-heon won Korea’s first gold medal of the 2022 Beijing Olympics in the men’s 1,500-meter short track race on Wednesday, leading a far more confident Korean squad after a difficult start to the competition.
Hwang took the top spot with a time of 2:09.219. The Korean skater started the race in fourth place, but, with nine laps remaining, took first and kept that lead until the very end. Despite being one of the highest-ranked short track speed skaters in the world, Wednesday's medal was Hwang's first Olympic gold.
Hwang entered the game on good form, having won four gold medals at the Speed Skating World Cups leading up to the Olympics. Hwang won the 500-meter silver medal at the 2018 Winter Games.
Wednesday's medal comes as a potent consolation prize for Hwang, who failed to reach the final in both the mixed team quarterfinals and the 1,000-meter semifinals. In the 1,000-meter semifinals on Monday, Hwang crossed the finish line first in his heat but was disqualified for making an illegal late passing that caused contact, taking the Olympic and world record holder out of the event.
That disqualification proved to be highly controversial, with Korea raising a complaint with the head referee, the International Skating Union, the International Olympic Committee and planning to take it all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland. The penalty made headlines both in and outside of Korea as, for the second time at the Beijing Olympics, it paved the way for a Chinese athlete to progress and later medal in the event.
Hwang was one of three Korean skaters to reach the 1,500-meter final, with Lee June-seo finishing fifth and Park Jang-hyuk finishing seventh. Steven Dubois of Canada took the silver medal and Semen Elistratov of Russia took the bronze medal.
Park's return to the ice for Wednesday's race came as something of a surprise, after he had to withdraw from the 1,000 meters on Monday with an injury. Park was forced out of his quarterfinal race after Pietro Sighel of Italy crashed into him while trying to overtake. The crash left Park spinning across the ice, where Wu Dajing of China skated into his hand. Park was carried off the ice on a stretcher and taken to hospital where he received 11 stitches.
The three men weren't the only Korean skaters on the ice on Wednesday, with the women's team competing in the early stages of both the 3,000-meter relay and the 1,000 meters.
In the first heat of the 1,000-meter event, Choi Min-jeong comfortably topped her group with a time of 1:28.053. She started out the race in third place, but took the lead with eight laps remaining.
Choi’s time was good enough for a new Olympic record, although it didn't last long as Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands set a new record at 1:27.292 minutes later.
Lee Yu-bin, on the other hand, qualified after a close run. She was unable to get past third position until the very last lap, when Kim Boutin, who was leading the pack, tripped just before passing the finish line, enabling Lee to finish second with a time of 1:27.862.
Both Choi and Lee will progress to the quarterfinals on Friday, while countrywoman Kim A-lang missed out on her chance to advance, coming in third in the sixth heat with a time of 1:28.680.
The women’s 3,000-meter relay semifinals followed the 1,000-meter race and Seo Whi-min joined Kim, Choi and Lee.
Korea took second place for most of the race then, with two laps remaining, Korea was pushed back to third position and Choi was the one to make up for the gap over the last few meters. After a photo review, Korea took second place with a time of 4:05.904, 0.009 seconds behind leader Canada.
The women’s 3,000-meter relay medal event will take place on Sunday.
BY JIM BULLEY AND YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]