SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - South Korea grabbed gold in the women’s short track speed skating 3,000 meters relay at the Sochi Olympics on Tuesday, easing some of the pain from the Vancouver Games when they finished first but were disqualified for illegal contact.
In a tight race decided only on the final curve, South Korea’s Shim Suk-hee surged across the finish line, her fist pumping and a huge smile on her face.
She and team mates Kim Alang, Park Seung-hi and Cho Ha-ri jumped up onto the podium holding hands to take a bow.
“We were disqualified at the last Olympics and today we picked up the gold medal we left behind back then,” said Park, who was part of the team in 2010.
China inherited the gold in Vancouver when the Koreans were disqualified, but this time around it was the Chinese falling foul of the judges.
Fan Kexin, Li Jianrou, Liu Qiuhong and Zhou Yang were second across the line on Tuesday, only to be disqualified.
“This certainly makes up for it,” said Cho, who was also on South Korea’s Vancouver team.
A split-second of disbelief was followed by joy for Canada’s Marie-Eve Drolet, Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais and Marianne St-Gelais as they watched their third place turn to second on the scoreboard.
“We thought we were third and we were happy but we didn’t know something had happened because there seemed to be nothing in the race,” St-Gelais told reporters.
The Canadians, who also won silver in Vancouver, have held a spot on the podium in the women’s relay at every Olympics since the event was introduced in 1992.
Despite a tumble by Arianna Fontana that left Italy trailing with 13 laps to go, the team moved up to take home bronze following China’s disqualification.
“When I crashed ... we didn’t give up,” said Fontana, who won her third medal of the Sochi Games. She also won silver in the 500m and bronze in the 1,500m.
“We kept going and in the end when we saw China got DQed (disqualified) we were really excited,” she said.
The Chinese team, who were favourites despite losing four-time Olympic gold medallist Wang Meng to injury ahead of the Games, were left shaking their heads in disappointment.
South Korea were ahead in the opening laps before China moved from the back of the pack to hit the front with 16 laps to go. The two teams swapped the lead again, China hitting the front with three laps to go, but Korea’s Shim navigated a daring winning pass of China’s 500m champion Li on the last leg of the 27 lap race.
“I felt really good going into the last lap. I felt fast and I thought I could pass her. And it was such a thrill when I did,” said Shim, who won silver in the 1,500m last week.
“I’m happy about the silver medal, of course, but the gold means so much more because we won it together as a team.”
Tuesday’s racing may also help turn around the fortunes of South Korea’s men in what has been a barren run so far for nation that has long dominated the short track oval - winning 20 golds, far more than any other country.
Lee Han-bin and Park Se-yeong qualified for the 500m quarter-finals on the final day of racing on Friday.
They will be challenged by Russian home favorite Viktor Ahn, who looked in fine shape to add to his haul of four Olympic gold medals.
But Charles Hamelin of Canada saw his chances of enjoying a 500m showdown with Ahn - with both already having won one gold in Sochi - evaporate when he lost his footing in the final lap of his heat, spinning into the boards.
His girlfriend, St-Gelais, met with similar misfortune, losing her footing and colliding with Jorien ter Mors in her 1,000m heat.
But the Dutchwoman, who won the 1,500m speed skating gold at the neighboring Adler Arena, was advanced into the quarters after the referee ruled St-Gelais had blocked her path.
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Peter Rutherford