Wang Meng of China wins gold in women’s 500 meter short track

By Beth Harris, AP
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wang Meng easily wins short track gold in 500

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — There are few sure things in the capricious sport of short-track speedskating. Wang Meng is one of them.

The Chinese woman easily won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the 500 meters on Wednesday night, defending the title she won four years ago at the Turin Games.

“I would have to say I’m more mature now and more clear-minded about short track skating,” she said through a translator. “However, on the final two laps tonight, I still felt my legs shaking. I guess when you’re so close to what you’ve always wanted, it’s natural to be shaken.”

Wang led all the way after surviving a restart and a false start in the four-woman final at Pacific Coliseum.

Apolo Anton Ohno, considered the face of short track, easily advanced through preliminaries of the men’s 1,000, and helped the United States move on to the 5,000 relay final. The 1,000 final is Saturday, when Ohno can add to his cache of six Olympic medals and become the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian. He already won a silver in the 1,500 last weekend.

“I just don’t want to leave any room for error. I don’t want to leave any microsecond of time that I feel like could make a difference toward a medal,” Ohno said. “For me, I’m doing the best I can for every single day. That’s how I am. I’m here to do a job. I’m here to represent the U.S. the best that I can.”

In the women’s 500, Wang cruised home a whopping seven-tenths of a second — an eternity in short track — ahead of Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais, who took silver. Arianna Fontana of Italy earned the bronze.

Wang eased up a bit near the end, not bothering to try to lower her own Olympic record.

“I didn’t think about anything but the end result,” she said. “I wanted to be first across the finish line.”

The final was restarted after Canadian Jessica Gregg went down and her teammate St-Gelais followed in the first turn. After some ice repair, the women returned to the starting line.

Then there was a false start. But Wang stayed calm throughout the delays.

“Of course I feel pressure,” she said. “But when 1.3 billion people are watching you, you turn that pressure into motivation. The best way to deal with stress is to turn it around and make it motivation.”

She darted to the lead on the inside lane and stayed there the entire way, making it a race for the lesser medals among the other three women.

Wang crossed the finish line well ahead, sticking both her arms out. She quickly grabbed a Chinese flag and skated around the rink, shouting, “Woo!”

Wang was the gold-medal favorite, and she lived up to her billing starting in the preliminary heats Saturday. She was by far the fastest skater and was never challenged on her way to the final.

She is the world-record holder in the 500 and is ranked first in the world in the sprint.

After being introduced as the Olympic champion again, Wang walked around the podium and shook hands with the other medalists. She then jumped onto the top spot and happily accepted a bouquet.

“Last, but not least, I want to thank myself,” she said after ticking off a list of thank yous at the medalists’ news conference.

St-Gelais celebrated her 20th birthday Wednesday with a medal, earning some of the night’s loudest cheers from her countrymen who packed the arena. She skated around with the Canadian flag wearing a huge smile.

“I’m super proud of myself,” she said.

St-Gelais dates Canadian speedskater Charles Hamelin, who advanced in his preliminaries.

Asked what he got St-Gelais for her birthday, Hamelin said, “I don’t think you can get a better present than (a medal), but maybe one day in the near future, I’ll give her a ring.”

American Katherine Reutter won her 500 quarterfinal heat, but couldn’t match the speed of her rivals in the semis and was relegated to the consolation final, where she finished third.

“The 1,500 is my best event anyway, so bring it on,” she said.

Ohno remained on course to break a tie with Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian.

After skating his individual race, Ohno helped the United States advance to the 5,000 relay final with a second-place finish in its semifinal heat.

Ohno was third most of the way in the 1,000. Then, in the closing laps, he moved up to second before taking the lead over China’s Liang Wenhao.

American J.R. Celski, the bronze medalist in the 1,500, joined Ohno in reaching Saturday’s quarterfinals of the 1,000. Their teammate Travis Jayner wasn’t so lucky. He was in second when he hit a block with his right skate in the final turn and lost his balance, costing him a chance to move on.

Ohno then joined Celski, Simon Cho and Jayner in qualifying for the 5,000 relay final on Feb. 26. Ohno barked instructions to his teammates as they circled in the middle of the rink waiting for their turn to join the relay fray.

Ohno pumped his right fist as he crossed the finish line, knowing he had secured another opportunity to add to his medal collection.

“It felt great,” he said. “I helped my relay team qualify for the final, which is the most important thing. Hopefully we’ll come back and compete as hard as we can.”

The Americans finished second to the powerful South Koreans in their heat. France was advanced into the final by the referees after an Italian skater lost his balance in a turn and took out a French skater, putting both teams hopelessly behind.

Also advancing to the 5,000 relay final were South Korea, China and Canada, led by Charles Hamelin.

Hamelin, who is the world-record holder in the 1,000, and his younger brother, Francois, were among those moving on to the quarterfinals of that event, along with South Korean stars Sung Si-bak, 1,500-meter gold medalist Lee Jung-su and Lee Ho-suk.

Haralds Silovs of Latvia, the first to qualify in both short and long track speedskating, also advanced.

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