SOCHI, RUSSIA - Short track speed skating at the Winter Olympics, especially the relay races, often provide controversial results. That was the case Tuesday in the women's 3,000-meter relay.
There is no doubt one of the reasons short track speed skating was added to the Olympic program in 1992 is because of the thrill and drama it often provides.
Unlike long track speed skating where the athletes race in pairs, essentially against the clock, the short track skaters compete in packs of usually between four and six, on a much smaller oval. With tight turns and always the chance for falls and crashes, the skaters wear hard helmets.
And there are a number of ways a contestant or team can be disqualified, including impeding, skating outside the designated area and false starts.
In the women's 3,000-meter relay, the South Koreans jumped the opening gun for a false start. Another false start and they would have been disqualified. Instead, their final skater, Shim Suk Hee, passed the Chinese with half-a-lap to go and crossed the finish line first for the gold medal.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics the Koreans were disqualified for illegal contact after thinking they had won the gold. Though she was not on that team, Shim said through a translator, she certainly remembered the heartbreak of her countrywomen.
"When I went past the [finish] line, even though I was watching it on TV four years ago, I still thought of that moment," she said. "It came up to my head. I was really happy and I could feel what my other teammates who took part in it felt and I was more happy for them."
China was the beneficiary of the Koreans' disqualification four years ago, moving up to the gold. This time it was the Chinese who were disqualified for an improper move after finishing second. That meant the Canadians were elevated from third place to the silver medal, and the Italians, who had a skater fall early in the race, were advanced from fourth place to the bronze medal.
Canadian Marianne St-Gelais said she and her teammates were as surprised as anyone that they ended up with the silver medal.
"We were proud of what we did," said St-Gelais. "So when we saw we came in third we were happy, but we didn't know something happened because we hadn't seen anything in the race. So when we saw the final result we were proud. Like we wanted the gold medal for sure because it's never happened, but we're really, really satisfied with the silver."
After the Italians suffered their crash, the public address announcer brought laughter from the crowd when he announced that they were now "about 15 years behind" the other three teams. Italian Arianna Fontana said they did not let the crash bother them.
"We didn't give up. We kept going. We tried to go fast anyway, and in the end when we saw that the Chinese got [disqualified], we were really excited, really happy and we couldn't believe it," said Fontana.
For the South Koreans, considered one of the strongest short track speed skating teams at these Winter Games, the women's relay win was their first gold medal in five of the eight scheduled events.
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