Teenage star Choi Min-jeong crashed out on a miserable night for South Korea’s short track speed skaters on Thursday, as Hungary made history with their first Winter Olympics gold.
The hosts, a superpower in the sport, had high hopes in all three races at a packed Gangneung Ice Arena but they endured an evening to forget as the Olympic short-track competition wrapped up.
Hungary’s breakthrough was accompanied by a victorious moment for China, hosts of the next Winter Games in 2022, when Wu Dajing won their first gold in Pyeongchang with a world record in the men’s 500m.
But while there were celebrations for China and Hungary, Korean fans had little to cheer, starting when Choi’s bid for an Olympic treble ended in a wipe-out with fellow South Korean Shim Suk-hee.
Choi, gold-medallist in the women’s 1,500m and 3,000m relay, clipped the blades of Shim in the final lap of the 1,000m, sending both skaters hurtling into the side padding.
That left Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands to claim gold, with Canada’s Kim Boutin taking silver and Arianna Fontana of Italy the bronze.
Then in the men’s 500m, South Korea had to settle for second and third behind China’s Wu, the 2014 silver medallist, who set a world record in the quarter-finals and lowered it to 39.584sec in the final.
“I definitely felt pressure, I wanted to get a breakthrough for myself, and for China,” said Wu. “This is a new beginning, and we look forward to Beijing.”
– ‘Really, really sorry’ –
Hwang Dae-heon’s silver and Lim Hyo-jun’s bronze behind Wu turned out to be the highlights for South Korea, who were knocked out of contention in the men’s 5,000m relay after a mid-race fall.
Korea’s Lim Hyo-jun was inconsolable after the race as he apologised profusely for the mishap.
“Before the Games I thought we had to get relay gold, but then I made a mistake and that led to no medal and I’m so sorry for my team-mates, I’m just really, really sorry,” he said.
Further ahead there was no stopping Hungary, who held off China and Canada to claim their first Winter Olympics gold, and first medal of any colour since 1980.
Hungary — Csaba Burjan, Victor Knoch, Shaoang Liu and his older brother, Sandor Liu Shaolin — did it in style, setting a new Olympic record of 6min 34.510sec.
Choi, 19, was regarded as a poster girl for the Olympics hosts, but in a rollercoaster Games her bid for four goals ended immediately when she was disqualified from the 500m.
Choi won the 1,500m and led South Korea to 3,000m relay success, but she only made Thursday’s final through the back door, when a penalty to one of her rivals earned her a pass to the final.
Starting on the outside she was always up against it, and after the collision with Shim she ended her race — and her Olympics — unceremoniously on her backside.