Short track speed skating will be one of the most popular sports for the host nation at these Olympic Winter Games. (John Scone photo)
Olympic short track speed skating is known for two things: blinding pace, and spectacular wipeouts. The discipline returns to the Olympic Winter Games for the eighth time at Pyeongchang 2018, where eight events will be contested over the course of 13 days.
Short track speed skating will be of particular interest to the host nation, where it is the national winter sport. South Korea boasts the all-time best record of any nation in short track, with 42 medals in men’s and women’s competition combined (21 of those are gold, which is more than double the amount of the next closest nation, China).
As athletes prepare for competition in front of what may be the best atmosphere short track has had at an Olympic Winter Games, here are five of the most unbelievable crashes in medal races from Olympics of the past:
5. But First, You Must Finish – Men’s 1000 Metres, Lillehammer 1994
After a clean debut for short track speed skating at Albertville 1992, this race was one of the first to establish the discipline’s penchant for wild finishes. Great Britain’s Nicky Gooch shoved Canada’s Derrick Campbell into the barriers on the penultimate lap of this race. Gooch was disqualified for crashing Campbell, and Campbell got up and skated back around to the start finish line, thinking he was assured of a bronze medal (only 4 skaters started the race). The problem for Campbell was that he had 2 laps left to go, not 1. He left the final lap incomplete and gave the judges no choice but to award the bronze medal to fellow Canadian Marc Gagnon – who had only raced in the B final!
4. Christie Comes Charging In – Women’s 500 Metres, Sochi 2014
Rare is the case where a skater can waltz to a gold medal in short track, but China’s Li Jianrou was able to do so four years ago in Russia. Just after the first lap of this race, Great Britain’s Elise Christie divebombed into a corner and lost her footing, taking herself and two other competitors out of contention in the process. Jianrou was the fourth and final skater in the train when the crash occurred, and as the ice cleared in front of her, she realised that all she had to do was not fall to win gold. Jianrou won the race by almost six seconds – one of the largest margins of victory in Olympic short track speed skating history. Christie, on the other hand, received death threats from South Koreans for ruining their countrywomen’s chances at gold. She eventually went to a sports psychologist, and came back last year to take three gold medals at the world championships in Rotterdam. She’ll skate for Team GB’s first gold medal of the Pyeongchang games in the women’s 500 metre final this evening.
3. The Other Canadian – Women’s 500 Metres, Nagano 1998
This race was supposed to be all about Canada’s Isabelle Charest. She came into this race as the world record holder, having set the mark at the 1997 World Championships. That race was also held at the very same rink in Nagano. Rinse, wash, repeat, right? So it looked, as she jumped out to an early lead and set the pace. But then she tangled with China’s Wang Chunglu, and with only two laps to go, the reigning world champion was out of contention for a medal. In stepped fellow Canadian Annie Perreault, who cleared the fallen pair of skaters in front of her and held off a hard-charging Yang Yang to claim her first individual Olympic gold.
2. Double Korean Trouble – Men’s 1500 Metres, Vancouver 2010
Everything had set up perfectly for the South Koreans in this race. Apolo Ohno stumbled with two laps to go trying to take the lead off Lee Jung-su, which allowed Sung Si-bak to pass Ohno for second. Lee Ho-suk passed Ohno coming to the final lap, putting South Korea in position for a complete sweep of the podium. But as Ho-suk tried to pass Si-bak for second place in the final corner, their blades clipped, and both skaters spun off to the outside. Instead of a Korean 1-2-3, it was just the gold for Jung-su. American J.R. Celski finished in third place, while Ohno won silver. That medal was Ohno’s sixth at the Olympic Winter Games, which made him the most decorated skater in Olympic short track history.
1. The Tortoise Becomes The Hare – Men’s 1000 Metres, Salt Lake 2002
In what is arguably the most famous short track final of them all, Australia’s Steven Bradbury was a heavy underdog in this final, which included Apolo Ohno and Ahn Hyun-soo (who is now Viktor An and races for Russia). He rode 20 metres behind the four leaders for the entirety of this race, thinking that his only shot at a medal was to lay back and avoid the crashes. In the final corner of the race, China’s Lia Jiajun clipped Ahn Hyun-soo and set off a chain reaction that sent all four leaders spinning into the barriers. As the fallen skaters crawled the final 10 metres of the race, Bradbury slipped past them all to take gold, leaving a trail of stunned competitors and spectators in his wake.