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(Left to right), Great Britain’s Elise Christie, Chiana’s Liu Qiuhong and China’s Li Jianrou compete in the Women’s Short Track 500m semifinals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
China’s Zhang wins shock gold Li avoids pile-up for miracle 500m title

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 13, (RTRS): China’s Zhang Hong ripped up the form book with a stunning upset to win the Olympic women’s 1,000 metres speed skating title at a canter on Thursday. Zhang clocked one minute, 14.02 seconds for her two-and-a-half laps, with women’s 3,000 metre champion Ireen Wust of Netherlands claiming silver some 0.67 seconds back. Dutch skater Margot Boer took bronze and was the only other competitor to get within a second of the 25-year-old Zhang. Skating in the seventh heat of 18, Zhang produced a blistering pace over the final half of her race to move top of the time sheets by three seconds. She then sat and watched on from inside the oval with her coach as the medal favourites and big names struggled to get anywhere near her time. Americans Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe were both tipped for the title but neither threatened and they finished seventh and eighth.

Olympic 500m champion Lee Sang-hwa went in the final heat and she skated under Zhang’s time over the opening lap but she tired in the latter stages and could only finish 12th. Zhang raced around the Adler Arena draped in the China flag before leaping on to the podium and hugging her Dutch opponents.
In an incident-packed race, South Korean Lee Bo-ra and Germany’s Monique Angermueller both crashed out in their heats. Meanwhile, Li Jianrou avoided an early pile-up to coast to victory in the women’s 500 metres short track speed skating, extending China’s winning streak at the distance to a fourth Winter Games. In a heart-thumping race, the 27-year-old first-time Olympian eased home after her rivals collided, sliding into the boards on the second turn of the all-out sprint.

“It’s a miracle,” an ecstatic Li told reporters. “I always believe in myself, I skated like I do in my daily training. I’m lucky to get this gold medal.” Italy’s Arianna Fontana took silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea bronze after Elise Christie of Britain had crossed the line second. Christie was disqualified for causing the crash. “I’m very sad. I did everything I could,” Christie told reporters. “I didn’t want to be in third position and get passed at the end. “I tried to win the race ... I tried to pass and got bumped by the girl on the outside (Fontana).”

The 23-year-old said she will now try to regain her focus for the 1,000m — her main event — when she has another shot at becoming Britain’s first gold medallist in short track. “I still have almost a week before my main competition, but I will need at least a day to get over it,” she said. China’s gold-medal favourite Fan Kexin had failed to qualify for the A final, adding to the nation’s disappointment after the absence from Sochi, due to injury, of four-times Olympic champion Wang Meng. Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais, who won silver in Vancouver behind Wang four years ago, missed out on the medal race after remaining in third throughout her semifinal.

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