China wins first home Olympics gold in short-track relay

BEIJING (AP) — Dashing through traffic, weaving around tight corners, avoiding potential disasters with every relay exchange. China won its first gold medal at the Beijing Games by winning the Olympic debut in the mixed team relay in short track speed skating.

Asia is a hotbed of the sport known as ice roller derby, although Saturday night’s typically rowdy atmosphere was greatly dampened by COVID-19 restrictions at Olympic venues.

Still, the small number of Chinese allowed in the stands at the Capitol Indoor Arena celebrated the host nation’s historic victory, shouting behind masks and waving tiny flags.

Wu Dajing edged Pietro Sighel of Italy by 0.016 seconds – or half a skate blade – to win gold. Hungary won bronze.

Qu Chunyu, Fan Kexin and Ren Ziwei joined Wu for the win.

“It was a huge relief,” Wu said. “Now we finally achieved our dream on day one.”

The results were delayed while the referee reviewed the race. Canada was penalized for pushing from behind and causing contact with Hungary late in the race.

This set the stage for China to build a big lead over Italy in the closing stages of the race. But the Italians rallied, circling the rink in pursuit of the home team. Sighel nearly surprised Wu in what would have been a huge upset.

“I never imagined that today would be so difficult,” Ren said.

China was the favorite for the gold medal, having led the World Cup standings this season. But the host country took nothing for granted.

“Even until this morning we had been working on the strategy, we were still training, we were still studying how to be better,” Fan said.

China’s first gold medal at the Games drew cheers from a crowd gathered in front of a big-screen outdoor television in Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping district.

” It was passionate. I was very excited and filled with emotions watching the Chinese team approach the finish step by step,” said Cheng Hongwei, who stopped to watch while walking down the main pedestrian street.

“It’s a very exciting thing to see the Chinese national flag being raised again, and I’m very proud as a Chinese,” said another Beijing resident, Jolin Li, who said her 7-year-old daughter was a big winter fan. Games.

The frantic mixed relay features four skaters per team covering 18 laps. Each skater runs twice in the following order: female, female, male, male, female, female, male, male.

The final got off to a rocky start, with Hungary and Canada crashing out at the first corner, forcing the race to be called back to the start.

China needed help even to qualify for the A final.

It took penalties for the Americans and Russians to lift the Chinese to the final, as well as Hungary, who won in the semis.

The United States was called for blocking by an inside skater after the Americans finished second. The Russians were penalized for an extra skater on the team who caused an obstruction.

In the first semi-final, Canada and Italy advanced to the A final. The Netherlands, ranked second in the world, did not advance when Suzanne Schulting crashed in a corner early in the race.

Italian Arianna Fontana made history with her silver medal in the relay. It was his ninth medal, breaking a tie with Apolo Ohno and Viktor An for most career medals. She was already the most decorated short track skater.

“That doesn’t mean I’m better than them,” said Fontana, who received a congratulatory hug from An. “They were great when they skated and that doesn’t change that. It’s just another era. »

The 31-year-old Italian also became the first skater to win short track medals at five Olympic Games. She almost thought her team had won.

“He was advancing little by little on the Chinese skater. I thought he got it,” Fontana said of teammate Sighel. “It was pretty close. It was amazing to watch him fight for a gold medal.

Brothers Liu Shaoang and Liu Shaolin Sandor led Hungary to the bronze medal in the relay. Their mother is Hungarian and their father is Chinese. Four years ago, they helped Hungary win the 5,000 meters relay, the country’s first gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Liu Shaoang arrived in China later than his teammates after contracting a case of COVID-19.

Joining the Liu brothers on the podium was his American teammate John-Henry Krueger, who skated in previous rounds of the relay. He won a silver medal in the 1,000m for the United States four years ago before switching sides.

In the women’s 500 heats, Schulting set an Olympic record to advance to Monday’s quarterfinals. Fontana, Fan, Canada’s Kim Boutin and South Korea’s Minjeong Choi, along with their American teammates Maame Biney and Kristen Santos, have also moved on.

In the men’s 1000m heats, reigning Olympic champion Wu moved on, along with Daeheon Hwang of South Korea, who set an Olympic record. Krueger advanced to Monday’s quarterfinals, as did the Liu brothers.

Music blared, colored lights flashed and one of the Olympic mascots waddled, but the usually rowdy atmosphere for short track was absent at Capital Indoor Stadium. COVID-19 restrictions kept most of the 17,345 seats empty. The only spectators were Chinese and they were shouting behind masks for their country’s skaters, but otherwise cheering politely and waving tiny flags.

The arena is famous for hosting table tennis matches between China and the United States in 1971, known as Ping Pong Diplomacy, an event that paved the way for the visit of US President Richard Nixon in Beijing the following year. It was the site of volleyball at the 2008 Summer Olympics.


AP Writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.


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