Men’s short track golds go to athletes from three continents
China’s Wu Dajing, Canada’s Samuel Girard and the Republic of Korea’s Lim Hyo-jun won the three men’s individual short track speed skating golds on offer at PyeongChang 2018, where large crowds flocked to the Gangneung Ice Arena night after night. In the 5,000m relay, meanwhile, Shaoang Liu, Shaolin Sándor Liu, Viktor Knoch and Csaba Burjan combined to win Hungary’s first ever Olympic Winter Games title.
The host nation’s first gold medal of PyeongChang 2018 came on 10 February, the day after the Opening Ceremony, when Lim skated to victory in the 1,500m, to the delight of the home fans at the Gangneung Ice Arena. The Netherlands’ Sjinkie Knegt came home second in the nine-man final, while Olympic Athlete from Russia Semion Elistratov took the bronze.
Moving smoothly into the lead with two laps remaining, Lim stayed there to win comfortably in a new Olympic record time of two minutes, 10.485 seconds. In doing so, he secured his country’s third gold in the event since its introduction on the Olympic programme at Salt Lake City 2002.
The Republic of Korea’s chances of having two skaters on the podium ended when Hwang Dae-heon fell two laps out. France’s Thibaut Fauconnet, who was in the lead, went down with him, while defending champion Charles Hamelin (CAN) was disqualified.
It was no great surprise to see the 21-year-old Lim cross the line first. A gold medallist in the 1,000m and a silver medallist in the 500m at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012, the Republic of Korea athlete won the opening 1,500m event of the 2017/18 ISU World Cup season in Budapest (HUN), where he also took the honours in the 1,000m.
“I was so overwhelmed because it’s my home country,” said Lim. “I wanted to show the very best attitude and try as hard as I could, but the coach said, ‘Don’t get too stressed. Just relax’. I did what he said and I think that led to better results.”
Girard avoids the chaos
Canada’s Girard stayed out of trouble in the 1,000m final on 17 February to win gold from the USA’s Henry Krueger and the Republic of Korea’s Seo Yi-ra.
A crash took out three of the finalists just before the start of the last lap, with only Girard and Krueger left standing. The Canadian stayed out front to win his country’s first short track gold of PyeongChang 2018 the discipline, while Seo climbed back to his feet to cross the line and take the bronze.
Also hitting the ice were Republic of Korea’s skater Lim, the 1,500m winner seven days earlier, and Hungary’s Shaolin Sandor Liu, who was disqualified for causing the crash when attempting an inside pass.
21-year-old Girard, who finished fourth in the 1,500m, was a 1,000m silver medallist at the 2016 World Championships in Seoul.
“I set a good pace at the front to unsettle everyone and get them fighting amongst themselves in trying to get past me,” said Girard. “That was my plan and I executed it pretty well.”
World record for 500m champion Wu
A silver medallist in the distance at Sochi 2014, China’s Wu went one better in the final on 22 February. After setting a new world record of 39.800 seconds in the quarter-finals, the 23-year-old Chinese skater managed an even better result in the final, posting a time of 39.584 seconds to claim the gold ahead of the host nation duo Hwang and Lim. It was China’s first ever Olympic men’s short track gold, a stark contrast to the country’s women, who have amassed nine golds since the discipline’s Olympic debut at Albertville 1992.
Lim’s bronze was his second medal at PyeongChang 2018, after his 1,500m gold, while Girard again finished just outside the medals, in fourth.
Wu has dominated the distance since his Sochi silver, recording ten World Cup and world championship victories in the years leading up to PyeongChang 2018. That superiority was reflected in the final, which he led from start to finish to win by a distance from Hwang.
“I didn’t give my competitors a chance,” said Wu. “I just kept my speed from the start. More importantly I believed in myself. I’m very emotional and happy to have won China’s first gold in this event. I didn’t think so much about the world record. I just thought about how to get through each round. This competition was very tough. I kept trying to give myself confidence and the team has also been very supportive and has encouraged me.”
Hungarians end long wait for gold
On 22 February, brothers Shaoang Liu and Shaolin Sándor Liu (who have a Chinese father and a Hungarian mother) combined with Knoch and Burjan to win Hungary’s first ever Winter Olympic gold, in the 5,000m relay final, setting a new Games record as they topped the podium ahead of China and Canada.
Hungary’s previous Winter Games medals – two silvers and four bronzes – had all come in figure skating.
The Hungarians took an early lead in the race, ahead of Republic of Korea and China, who moved to the front 35 laps from home. The host nation team fell with 20 laps remaining, while Canada moved up from the rear to take the lead, which they would then swap with the Chinese. With two laps to go, however, the Hungarian four moved back in front and stayed there to post a new Olympic record of six minutes, 31.971 seconds.
“It’s been 38 years since our last medal, a silver in figure skating. We felt a lot of pressure, if I have to be honest, from the whole country,” admitted Knoch. “I think everybody felt this weight on their shoulders. It was our last chance to get a medal for our federation, our country, and it’s unbelievable that it’s a gold. It’s really hard to understand what just happened.”
Skating with Chinese team-mates Han Tianyu, Xu Hangzi and Chen Deguan, Wu won a silver to go with his 500m gold from earlier in the day, while Canada’s Girard, Charles Cournoyer, Pascal Dion and Hamelin – appearing at his final Winter Games – took the bronze.