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Adding to the excitement was the fact that the athletes who finished first and second had not really been expected to figure among the medals at all. Germany's Olaf Zinke was a one-time youth footballer who had been switched to speed skating by East German sporting authorities. Zinke was a car mechanic, but spent much of his time training on the ice. In his first event in Albertville, the 500m, he had placed a distant 25th so he hardly looked like a potential gold medallist. And Kim Yoon-man of the Republic of Korea looked no more likely a winner. The Korean university student had come to the Games with hopes of a top ten finish, and, like Zinke, he had attracted relatively little attention.
Most attention was focused on reigning champion Nikolai Gulyaev and the Calgary bronze medallist Igor Zhelezovsky, both of whom made the final. Four years earlier they had competed for the USSR, and were now representing the Unified Team.
As it turned out, Gulyaev was the slowest of the eight finalists, while Zhelezovsky was the unlucky skater to come sixth, only 0.2 seconds behind the winner. The finish was almost unbelievably close, with that top six all lunging for the line in synch. Somehow, though, the two outsiders, Zinke and Kim, managed to edge the other four. There was no way that they could be separated by the naked eye. Indeed, even with the help of a photo-finish it was a huge challenge to determine the winner, but in the end victory was given to Zinke by the narrowest possible margin of just 0.01 seconds ahead of his Korean rival.