Shim Suk-Lee, a star of the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012, passed China’s Li Jianrou heading into the final turn to push the Koreans over the line and help expunge memories of their disqualification four years earlier Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the defending champions China were themselves disqualified for impeding on the final lap, which meant that Canada were promoted to silver and Italy to bronze.
The Korean team of Cho Ha-Ri, Kim Alang, Park Seung-Hi and Shim finished in 4min 9.498sec, with Canada crossing the line in 4:10.641.
“I felt really good going into the last lap,” said Shim. “I felt fast, and I thought I could pass Li. And it was such a thrill when I did.”
In an exciting race, that swung first one way and then the other, the lead changed hands between the Korean and Chinese teams no less than five times in the last eight laps.
The Chinese team were left devastated at losing their hold on the title.
“According to the judges, when Zhou [Yang] exchanged, she was on the track and impeded skaters behind her,” said Chinese coach Li Yan.
“The judges' decision is the final one. We are disappointed, but we respect it,” he added.
Canada’s silver was their seventh successive medal in the 3,000m relay medal for the seventh successive Winter Games.
“Before the relay I was so ready, I was pumped up for the race,” said Valerie Maltais, for whom it capped a particularly few hours on the track. Earlier in the day she had set a new Olympic record in the 1,000m heats.
“I was clapping the hands of the girls, tapping their legs, like 'Let's go',” she added. “It’s so good for our team to get a medal today. We've spent all season on the edge, and now we've won a medal.”