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Olympics / Sports

South Korean sets record in 500-meter women's speedskating

SOCHI, Russia -- Even before the gun went off for the first pair Tuesday, the women in the 500-meter long-track speedskating race at the Sochi Games were conceding gold to Lee Sang-hwa, South Korea's 24-year-old sprinting sensation.

"There are two medal places on the podium after Lee's gold," said Margot Boer of the Netherlands. "There is just one way to beat Lee and that is if she makes mistakes on the ice."

She did not make any mistakes.

Lee skated the two fastest 500s of the day -- 37.42 seconds in the first race and 37.28 in the second -- for a combined time of 74.70 seconds in a golden performance at the Adler Arena.

Her time broke the previous Olympic record of 74.75 set by Catriona Le May Doan of Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"I think a year or two ago those times were unthinkable and the fact that she's laying down those times is awesome for the women's side of things and it makes it really exciting," said Brittany Bowe of the U.S. "I just think it's awesome for the sport."

Olga Fatkulina of Russia took the silver medal in 75.06 and Boer took the bronze in 75.48.

Boer's medal was the eighth for the Dutch in four long-track races and was the first for the Netherlands in the women's 500. It was the only individual race in which the Dutch had never medaled at the Olympics.

Lee, who lowered her world record four times in 2013 and won all seven World Cup races she entered, became the third skater after Bonnie Blair and Le May Doan to win multiple gold medals in the women's 500. Blair is the only one to win the race three times.

For the Americans, it was another day of unsatisfactory results. Twenty-four hours after the men underperformed in the 500, the women failed to win a medal. Heather Richardson of High Point, N.C., finished eighth -- the first top-10 for the U.S. in four races.

But Richardson was disappointed because she was in fourth place and in medal contention after skating the first 500 in 37.73. She dropped four spots after skating the second race in 38.02.

"Definitely, I felt like I was a medal contender," she said. "I'm not sure what happened. ... Maybe just going into the outer (lane) I lost a little speed. So tomorrow that's what I'll work on, carrying my speed into the outer for the 1,000 (on Thursday). That's the only thing I can think of."

Bowe, of Ocala, Fla., finished 13th after a rough first race. She started on the inner lane but was paired with Lee and was forced to slow down when the lightning-fast Lee beat her to the lane changeover.

"Unfortunately, I got Sang-hwa on the inner on the first one," Bowe said. "That outer lane has the right of way and I couldn't really get my speed going in that first turn because I didn't want to interfere with her race.

"Usually the inner lane goes before the outer lane but the outer person has the right of way so normally if you're somewhat evenly matched there would be no problem on that exchange. It was just the luck of the draw."

Bowe said she was concerned about that possibility before the race started.

"I can't say it wasn't in the back of my mind," she said. "I had a solid opener; 10.7 (seconds for the first 100 meters) is what I've been consistently doing for the year. But going around the whole first inner I saw her in front of me and I knew I had to let up to let her go."

Bowe's time was 38.81 in the first race but she improved to 38.37 in the second.

"I just had to refocus and nail the things I wanted to hit in that second one," she said. "I had a solid opener and a really fast lap so I think that's a good primer for my 1,000 on Thursday."

Lauren Cholewinski of Pineville, N.C., finished 15th and Sugar Todd of Wauwatosa, Wis., finished 29th.

"I just had the time of my life out there," Todd said. "That was so much fun. The energy was great. People seem to get a little more nervous when they're at the Olympic Games and I just felt like I was riding a wave of excitement. My races were both solid and consistent so I'm thrilled."

After four long-track races, U.S. skaters haven't even threatened the podium. Fortunately, their best races are coming up: the men's and women's 1,000 and 1,500.

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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