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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Olympics spoiler alert: Women's speedskating

AP National Writer

Article on women's speedskating 500.

RICHMOND, British Columbia— South Korea won another stunning gold at the Olympic speedskating oval Tuesday as Lee Sang-hwa knocked off two favorites in the women’s 500 meters.

German world-record holder Jenny Wolf and China’s Wang Beixing came in expecting to battle for top spot on the podium, having swept all eight 500 races during the World Cup season. But Lee held off Wolf by five-hundredths of a second, winning with a total time of 1 minute, 16.09 seconds.
“All my friends won medals, so I had a little bit of pressure,” Lee said. “I was a little bit worried.”
No need. Wolf had the fastest time in the second race, but it wasn’t enough to erase Lee’s lead from the first heat, leaving the German with a silver at 1:16.14. Wang took the bronze in 1:16.63.
“Right now I’m a little bit confused. I wanted to win gold,” Wolf said. “But winning an Olympic medal is the biggest thing you can imagine when you’re a child. Now I have a medal and I can be really proud.”
Lee grabbed the lead in the first race, putting up a time of 38.249 for a 0.058 lead over Wolf. Wang was a disappointing third in 38.487, essentially ending her hopes of winning gold unless the top two both made a major mistake while going out in the final pair of the day.
They didn’t. Wolf stuck out her blade to edge Lee at the line in 37.838, but the Korean’s 37.850 was good enough for gold.
Lee hugged her coach and grabbed a South Korean flag for the victory lap, an increasingly familiar celebration at the oval in suburban Richmond.
“I practiced for the big games,” said Lee, who didn’t focus on her World Cup results. “It worked out well.”
Until these games, the Asian nation had never won a Winter Olympic gold in any sport except short track. Now, the Koreans are dominating on the big oval, winning two of the first four events and taking silver in another.
Lee’s victory gave South Korea a sweep of the 500s. Mo Tae-bum captured gold in the men’s race a day earlier and is expected to be one of the top challengers to American world-record holder Shani Davis in Wednesday’s 1,000.
The South Koreans also collected an unexpected silver in the men’s 5,000 from Lee Seung-hoon.
There were no problems with the two ice resurfacing machines after major malfunctions during the men’s 500 caused a delay of about an hour and left officials considering whether to postpone the event to another day. A backup machine was brought in from the Olympic oval in Calgary, but it wasn’t needed.
The top American was Olympic rookie Heather Richardson, a North Carolina native who made the inline-to-ice transition in 2007 and expects to make a bigger splash at the Sochi Games in 2014.
She finished an encouraging sixth in 1:17.17, shaving two-tenths of a second off her time in the second heat. The other Americans were far back: Elli Ochowicz was 17th, four-time Olympian Jennifer Rodriguez 21st and Lauren Cholewenski 30th.
“I nailed my start in both races,” said Richardson, who considers the 1,000 to be her best event. “I didn’t expect to do so well in this race.”
The U.S. team has yet to win a medal at the Richmond oval but has high hopes for Wednesday’s race with Davis leading the way.
The Dutch lost a potential medal contender when Annette Gerritsen lost an edge in the first race and tumbled into the padding.
“The second race was OK. But for me, it was over after the first race,” she said. “After I saw the times of the other girls, I thought I could do a good job here. I am really disappointed.”