Short track relay team reach final after impressive finish
Short track speed skater Hwang Dae-heon reached the men's 500-meter quarterfinals and the men's 5,000-meter relay finals alongside Lee June-seo, Kwak Yoon-gy and Kim Dong-wook on Friday.
Men’s 500-meter world No. 5 Hwang competed in group six for the heats. After a false start, Hwang took an immediate lead in the race, holding on to the front spot until the penultimate lap, when Abzal Azhgaliyev of Kazakhstan took the lead. Hwang crossed the finish line second with a time of 40.971 seconds.
Lee also competed in the first group in the heats but after starting out in the outer lane, crashed with Sebastien Lepape of France before finishing his first lap. Lee was later penalized for an illegal late pass causing contact.
The 500-meter race is the shortest short track event where athletes skate only 4.5 laps, with an early lead often being a deciding factor. As a result, false starts and falls are especially common.
With the two best athletes in each heat and four-fastest third-placed skaters qualifying for the quarterfinals, only Hwang will continue with the competition on Sunday.
Later on in the ice, Lee, Kwak and Kim joined Hwang in the men’s 5,000-meter relay. Two groups of four countries competed in the men’s 5000-meter semifinal, with Korea racing alongside Russia, Netherlands and Hungary in the second group in the order of Lee, Kim, Hwang and Kwak.
Korea took the lead for the first half of the race, but with 19 laps remaining, the Netherlands took the top spot. Kwak then put Korea back in control with 13 laps remaining, but Korea fell back again to second position.
Once again it was Kwak that came through at the very last minute, taking the inner lane as soon as he saw the chance in the last turn and crossing the finish line first with a time of 6:37.879.
Last November at the last ISU Short Track World Cup ahead of the Beijing Games when the men’s team took Korea’s first gold team medal at the World Cup series, Kwak was the one to finish strong in the last lap, crossing the finish line first.
“I want to say thank you to those who trusted in us despite the many mishaps in short track events here,” said Kwak after the race. “I am grateful for my teammates Lee, Kim and Hwang. My goal in life is to leave traces. I want to be able to achieve that in Beijing.
“I have never heard Hwang roar like that as he did when he handed the race over to me. That roar resonated with me in my last two-lap dash and I just went for it.”
China, Canada, Japan and Italy raced in group one but with 10 laps remaining, China's Li Wenlong, who was in second place, fell down after his skate clipped Pascal Dion of Canada’s skate. China rejoined the match but finished last while Canada and Italy took the top two positions to automatically advance to the next stage.
However, after a long video review, China was waived into the final race after judges ruled that China was not responsible for the fall. The decision only added to the ongoing controversy surrounding China being advanced into multiple short track finals without placing in the preliminary races.
The men’s 5000-meter final race will take place on Wednesday evening.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]