Lorentzen sets new Olympic record to win men’s 500m speed skating
There was high drama at the Gangneung Oval as Norway’s Havard Lorentzen snatched gold in the men’s 500m speed skating by the finest possible of margins on Monday 19 February.
Racing in the 14th pair, host nation favourite Cha Min Kyu had the Gangneung Oval crowd on its feet as he equalled the Olympic record of 34.42 to move into the gold medal position with just three heats to go.
However, Lorentzen then broke local hearts as, quite incredibly, he managed to shave another one hundredth of a second off Cha Min Kyu's time, setting a new Olympic record of 34.41 seconds and leaving the Republic of Korea athlete to settle for silver.
Lorentzen was in the third-last pair alongside Sochi bronze medallist Ronald Mulder (NED) and was behind Cha Min Kyu after the first 100 metres, but he edged in front over the race. He ended with a flurry of effort before waiting nervously until the timekeepers put his name up on the big screen.
Gao Tingyu of China, who had earlier in the contest set a new track record of 34.65 seconds, claimed the bronze to complete the podium.
Fifty-year wait over
Lorentzen became the first Norwegian to win the men's 500m title since Finn Helgesen 70 years ago, and his country's first medallist in the event since Magne Thomassen won silver in 1968. His gold was also Norway's 27th medal at PyeongChang 2018, a record for the NOC. Norway won 26 medals in Lillehammer in 1994 and in Sochi four years ago.
"It's the best race I've ever done," said Lorentzen of his scintillating display. "It's been 20 years since the last gold medal (for) Norway in speed skating, so it's been a while. It's time for Norway to step up on the top of the podium again. It feels so good to do that today."
Inspired by a legend
Lorentzen admitted that he had been inspired by Norway team coach Jeremy Wotherspoon, a former 500m world record holder, and was motivated to silence a vociferous home crowd.
"He [Wotherspoon] is probably the best speed sprinter that's ever been on the ice," said Lorentzen. "He has tons of experience and he teaches me how to be calm in situations like this, so that when I see an Olympic record and I have to go out and beat that and I do it, it's amazing.
"I was tying my skates when Cha Min Kyu did his race and the atmosphere was amazing. Then he set the Olympic record," said Lorentzen. "I wasn't sure I could beat that, but I knew I could at least do a medal. And when I did the last 50 metres I said to myself this has to be a medal. And then to cross the finish line and the entire stadium just went silent - it's quite cool."
Cha Min Kyu admitted his surprise at winning a medal, but said that to do so in front of a home crowd was special, even though he missed out on a gold by just 0.01 seconds.
"I didn't think I was going to get a medal so I'm really happy about this," he enthused. "It has more meaning that it (happened) in my own country. The 9.6 seconds start was my best for 100 metres and I think that was the key to a fast run. I wasn't disappointed [at finishing second] because my goal was only to get on to the podium. So I have to be happy with that."
Tingyu became the first male Chinese speed skater to win a medal at an Olympic Winter Games, but he believed he could have done better.
"I seemed to have seen everything in one event – a false start, and someone falling," he explained of the eventful race. "I've not encountered something like someone falling before. It gave me a fright, and I didn't really dare to go all-out. I think I could have done better."