Li Jianrou won China its first gold medal of the Sochi Games on Thursday.
Li was able to avoid a massive pile-up on the ice to take first place in the women’s short-track 500-meter speed skating event.
The short-track 500-meter is known as a thrilling and unpredictable race and it lived up to that reputation in Sochi.
British speed skater Elise Christie started the pile-up when she attempted to pass Italian Arianna Fontana on the second turn of the race. As Christie and Fontana fell to the ice, they managed to bring down Korea’s Park Seung-hi too.
Li swerved around them and sped past to take the lead.
“I feel very lucky,” she said.
— XinhuaGráficaEspañol (@Xinhua9) February 13, 2014
Christie crossed the finish line second, but the judges determined that the crash was her fault and disqualified her.
— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 13, 2014
“I thought I had more speed so I moved up while I could,” said Christie. “I knew it was going to be a 50-50 call. When I was in the race I thought I was in front, I thought it was more going to go my way than not, but obviously it didn’t and that’s that.”
Thank you to everyone for your support, I'm so grateful! I totally respect the referees decision, sorry to the other finalists.
— Elise christie (@Elise_Christie) February 13, 2014
“I saw Elise come in and thought I’d stop her, but she kept going,” Fontana said. “This is short track, so that’s what happens. When I was falling I was so sad, then I saw the Korean girl fell and I thought I could still get something so I got up as quickly as I could. I got my silver medal, but for me it’s gold.”
Congrats to @AryFonta for winning the silver medal in the 500m! Would have been gold if it weren't for her being taken out!
— Lee Porter (@LeePorter05) February 13, 2014
Fontana took the silver medal and Park the bronze.
Congrats! The women #shorttrack 500m winner is Li Jianrou from China. Arianna Fontana wins silver and Seung-Hi wins bronze
— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 13, 2014
“It is such a great disappointment,” Park said of her third place finish. “But it is also part of my destiny. I have to accept it.”
The 500-meter is the only short-track event South Korea has never won and Park was hoping to remedy that on Thursday.
Li’s win was a thrilling victory for China – earning them their fourth straight Olympic gold medal in the event.
It was a somewhat bittersweet victory – China’s defending champion Wang Meng, who won the gold at both Vancouver and Turin, broke her ankle last month, rendering her unable to compete in Sochi. Li stepped in with relatively little experience in the 500-meter event.
“I cried because I was so excited,” Li said. “My coach told me this medal is for Wang Meng as well, so I felt very moved.”
China now joins South Korea as the only two countries to win the same short-track event four Olympics in a row. South Korea won the 3000-meter relay in 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006.
Yang Yang won the short-track 500-meter gold for China in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Image via YouTube