Korean ladies streak to 3,000-meter relay goldAmericans Celski, Smith, Scott all qualify for quarterfinals
Ladies 1,000m Heats
In the absence of injured 2010 Olympic gold medalist and world champion Meng Wang of China, the favorites in this event are Korea's Seung-Hi Park, who won bronze in 2010, and her teammates, World Cup leader Suk-Hee Shim and Alang Kim, ranked second in the world. Other contenders are Italy's Arianna Fontana (already a double medalist here), Valerie Maltais of Canada and Great Britain's Elise Christie, who was penalized in both previous distances.
All the skaters mentioned above won their heat, and Maltais did so in an Olympic-record time of 1:28.771. Another top contender, Dutchwoman Jorien ter Mors, who was fourth in the 1,500 and won the 1,500-meter long track race, did not win her race. Instead, Austria's Deanna Lockett did, while Marianne St-Gelais of Canada fell, taking Ter Mors with her. Ter Mors was advanced.
Both American ladies, Jessica Smith and Emily Scott, went through to the quarterfinals. Smith had a tough heat but decided to take the lead from the start. When Jianrou Li of China took over the lead, Smith had a hard time holding off Tatiana Borodulina of Russia, but she succeeded.
"I had a tough race. I needed to be out front and tried to make it happen as much as possible and maintain my position," Smith said. "It was an OK race. It's about positioning."
In her heat, Scott took the early lead but was soon overtaken by Park. She had to fight off Czech Katerina Novotna, who then fell and slowed down Scott considerably, moving Inna Simonova of Kazakhstan into the second position. Although she could be sure to be advanced, Scott didn't want to take any risks, speeding up and managing to overtake Simonova just before the finish line.
"It was a good comeback. You hope the judges see and feel what you felt, but you can't be sure," Scott said. "It takes so much energy, but I was able to not panic but pull it off."
Men's 500m Heats
The main contenders at this distance figure to be Victor An of Russia, Canadian Charles Hamelin and Team USA's J.R. Celski. (Should An go on to win this event, he would be the first short-tracker, male or female, to own five gold medals in all and the first to have won gold in all four short track events.) Celski is the world record-holder, and finished fourth in the 1,500, while Hamelin, who fell in his favorite distance, the 1,000, won gold in the 1,500 and is the defending Olympic champion in this event.
Other medal contenders are Tianyu Han of China, Russia's Vladimir Grigorev and Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, all of whom have medaled in Sochi. China's Dajing Wu and Canadian Olivier Jean are among the five top-ranked skaters in the world and are still chasing their first medal here.
Most of them qualified. The Asians won their heat, as did An, Knegt and Jean. Jean was in the same heat as Celski, who finished second and easily qualified.
The race of Hamelin was unfortunate. He was leading, well ahead of the others, but the ice broke under him and he slid into the panels, just as happened in the 1,000.
"I'm going out of these Games proud," Hamelin said. "I won the gold medal in the 1,500-meter race and proved that I can be successful in all areas."
Eddy Alvarez fell with about 150 meters to go.
"Tough luck," coach Guy Thibault said. "He is a very talented athlete. He has the relay to go, and we hope we can put it together there."
U.S. hopeful Jordan Malone quickly moved to last position in his heat and could not keep pace with the others.
"I clipped my left skate behind the right, and my feet got ahead of themselves," Malone said. "It is what it is."
Celski is looking to rebound after crashing out of the 1,000 meters.
"I'm happy and confident now," Celski said. "Hamelin had bad luck, but I think the best one will prevail in this race. There are some strong skaters left to beat."
After the day's racing, much of the talk centered around the Iceberg's "soft" ice.
"There are always complaints Olympic time, but at least it's consistent every Olympics," Malone said. "In the Olympics, you always expect thick and soft ice."
Ladies 3,000m Relay
Four years after their disqualification in Vancouver, Korea regained its spot atop the podium. Canada got silver and Italy bronze.
The Koreans quickly assumed the lead, but the Chinese took over in nine nonconsecutive laps. Drama unfolded with 13 laps to go when Italian skater Arianna Fontana clipped her skate with a Korean and slipped onto the ice, dropping her team to fourth place.
The Canadians were consistent and stayed in third throughout most of the race, crossing the line behind the Koreans and Chinese. However, a bit unexpectedly, there came a penalty against China because one of its skaters impeded, as at some point there were three instead of two Chinese on the ice during a push-off. Thus, the Canadians and Italians moved up a spot.
"You never know how a race is going to unfold, so you have to be prepared to adjust at any time. We were able to adjust, and that's how we won the race," Ha-Ri Cho of Korea said. "Four years ago in Vancouver, we were disqualified, and this certainly makes up for it."