South Korea wins 1st gold of home Olympics in short track
AP Sports Writer
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Short-track speedskating is wildly popular in South Korea and the Olympic host country had reason to celebrate on the first night of racing.
Lim Hyo-jun won the crash-filled men’s 1,500-meter final, giving South Korea its first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday. He raised his arms in triumph and let out a yell as the capacity crowd roared its approval.
Lim surged past Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands and finished about two blade lengths ahead in an Olympic-record of 2 minutes, 10.485 seconds.
“I was very overwhelmed because it’s my home country,” Lim said. “I wanted to show my really good attitude and best efforts, but the coach said, ‘Don’t stress yourself too hard. Make yourself comfortable.’ I just followed his direction and I think that led to better results.”
Knegt earned silver while bronze went to Semen Elistratov, who became the first Russian medalist of the games.
Russia was banned from the Olympics for a massive doping scheme four years ago in Sochi, but Elistratov is among 168 competitors allowed in as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
“I dedicate this medal to all guys that have been excluded from these games in such a hard and unfair way,” Elistratov said. “This medal is for you.”
American teenager Maame Biney advanced to the quarterfinals of the women’s 500 in her Olympic debut. The 18-year-old was born in Ghana and moved to the U.S. as a child.
Biney finished second in her heat, while teammate Lana Gehring was eliminated on a difficult night for the U.S. team.
Three-time Olympian J.R. Celski and John-Henry Krueger didn’t make the 1,500 final after both got penalized. Aaron Tran finished last in the B final.
In the 1,500, defending Olympic champion Charles Hamelin of Canada was penalized for impeding after crossing the finish in sixth place.
Lim beat out eight rivals in the crowded final, which had three extra skaters after some were advanced because of penalties in the semifinals. Knegt patted Lim on his helmet after the two crossed the finish line.
“I went in front a little too early, with about five laps to go,” Knegt said. “I was not really prepared for that. Lim had a little more acceleration at the end. He was the best today.”
Knegt’s medal came shortly after the Dutch swept the podium in the women’s 3,000 at the big oval, making it the first time the nation won four medals in a single day at a Winter Games.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife watched the short-track competition at Gangneung Ice Arena with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife, although the Moons left for the women’s hockey game featuring a unified Korean team before Lim’s victory.
Lim wasn’t even the strongest South Korean skater in the final. Hwang Dae-heon led the World Cup rankings after having won most of his 1,500 races this season, but he crashed. The other South Korean, Seo Yira, was relegated to the B final.
Lim’s victory was unexpected, after the 21-year-old had back problems in recent months and was unable to compete in several World Cup events.
Lim credited six-time Olympic champion Viktor Ahn for giving him advice as a young skater.
“He told me I could do well. I have great respect for him,” Lim said. “When I heard the news about Viktor Ahn, it was regretful.”
Elistratov is on a much diminished Russian short-track team, after several skaters — including Ahn — were refused invitations by the International Olympic Committee, which said it couldn’t be confident they weren’t involved in doping. Born in South Korea, Ahn later changed his nationality to Russia. He won the 1,500 in 2006 when he still skated for Korea.
The IOC invited only three Russian men’s skaters, meaning Elistratov can’t compete in the 5,000-meter relay. He was on the four-man team that won that event at home four years ago in Sochi.
Elistratov has said he sought advice from his wife, parents and coach before deciding to accept the IOC’s invitation to go to Pyeongchang. He was cleared of a doping offense in 2016 after he tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.
Elistratov was forced to miss that year’s world championships before his suspension was lifted when the World Anti-Doping Agency issued an amnesty for athletes with low concentrations of the Latvian-made heart drug.
Meldonium had been banned in January 2016, two months before Elistratov’s failed test, and WADA admitted it wasn’t sure how long the drug could stay in the body.
In the women’s 3,000 relay, teams from South Korea, Canada, China and Italy reached Tuesday’s final.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed to this report.
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