With a flash of a skate, China won its first medal of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Saturday, which was also the first gold medal in a new Olympic event: the short-track speedskating mixed-gender team relay.
Wu Dajing struck his right skate across the finish line two-hundredths of a second ahead of a lunging Pietro Sighel from Italy as several hundred Chinese spectators cheered wildly, ignoring an edict not to cheer to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“I feel that I’ve waited for this Olympic gold medal for too long,” Fan Kexin, a member of the Chinese team whose previous quests for a gold ended in disappointment, told journalists after the win.
“I don’t care about what I’ve been through in the past — the pain, the injuries. When you’re standing on that competition field, at that moment, there are no excuses, and you go all out,” she said. “In the coming events, we won’t give up for one moment, not for one second. We’ll continue going for it.”
The road to gold was not easy for the Chinese. They initially finished in last place in the semifinals and did not qualify to advance. But after officials conferred and reviewed replays of the race for several minutes, both the United States, which had finished second in the semifinal, and Russia, which finished third, were disqualified.
“We skated flawlessly,” the American skater Ryan Pivirotto said with disappointment, before explaining that the violation was called on him. An official from the International Skating Union said that Pivirotto had illegally crossed from the infield onto the raceway while preparing to tag in, blocking a Chinese skater.
With the disqualifications, the Chinese advanced to the finals, and they did not waste their second chance.
Canada appeared to have finished third in the finals but was disqualified for causing a collision, allowing Hungary to take the bronze.
The mixed team relay involves four skaters from each nation, two men and two women, racing 2,000 meters over 18 laps. Only one athlete from each country is on the ice at a time, skating a few laps before physically pushing a teammate to initiate the exchange.
Even before China’s victory was official, its news media was reporting that the country had won its first gold medal for these Games. Excitement quickly spread across Chinese social media, drawing elated comments.
“Congratulations, Team China! You’re the best!” said The Global Times, a popular nationalist newspaper.
With the gold medal, China has already matched its haul of first-place finishes from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Short-track speedskating has been its best winter sport in recent years, accounting for three of the country’s nine medals in 2018 and six of its nine medals in 2014.
“This event really helped work off some anger,” said Wu, the member of the victorious Chinese team. “We’ve gone through so much in the past four years, and then the dream came true on the first day.”
All the members of the Chinese team come from Heilongjiang, the northeast province near Russia and Korea that endures freezing winters.
Liu Yi contributed research.