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Lee Seung-hoon celebrates his success on the medal podium. © Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Olympic Games News

Mass hysteria as Japan, Korea race to golden glory

Date : 24 Feb 2018

Gangneung, Korea, February 24, 2018: Japan’s Nana Takagi won her second gold medal of PyeongChang 2018 with a sensational victory in the ladies’ mass start speed skating at a packed Gangneung Oval on Saturday night. A few minutes later, home hero Lee Seung-hoon brought the house down with a spine-tingling victory in the men’s event on an incredible night of racing as the mass start format made its Winter Olympics debut.

Takagi, who was a member of Japan’s gold medal-winning pursuit team three days earlier, raced home for Japan’s fourth - and totally unexpected - gold medal of the Winter Games. The Japanese flyer showed tremendous speed and determination on the last lap to come home first, ahead of Korea’s Kim Bo-reum, who took the silver. The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten won the bronze.

The drama had only just begun, however, and Lee produced another spectacular victory in the closing race of the speed skating programme, the men’s mass start. Once again the field of 16 played cat and mouse until the closing stages, when Lee turned on the turbos to race home first as the spectators went wild inside the vast oval. It was Lee’s second Olympic gold medal of his career after winning the 10,000m at Vancouver in 2010, and Korea’s fifth gold of these games.

Belgium’s Bart Swings finished second and the Netherlands’ Koen Verweij was third for bronze. The wins for Japan and then for Korea brought the speed skating competition to a glorious close for the two Asian powerhouses, as first Japan and then Korea held off the formidable European and North American challenge by displaying outstanding tactics, technique and determination on a memorable night.

What was even better for the athletes was that they received their medals at the victory ceremony immediately after the racing had finished, accompanied by the national anthems, rather than at the Olympic Plaza 50km away in PyeongChang the following night, as has been the custom.

Takagi, wearing the distinctive orange track suit of the Japanese delegation, enjoyed every moment, running around the centre of the track to show off her medal to the pockets of Hinomaru-waving Japanese fans. IOC member Ryu Seung-min had the honour of presenting the gold medal to his countryman, Lee, before chants of “Lee Seung-hoon” rang around the stadium. 

Lee’s gold medal was Korea’s 15th medal of the games – a record for the NOC and beating the mark of 14 from Vancouver 2010. Takagi, who became the only woman to win two speed skating gold medals at PyeongChang 2018, said: “I focus on team pursuit and mass start – team pursuit, mass start, gold medals.

“I was feeling very good. I only lost focus on two laps, then I showed good acceleration. And then, with 100 metres…go!” Men’s champion Lee said his gold medal gave him extra satisfaction considering this was the first mass start race in the Winter Olympics and he achieved the feat in his home country.

“I am honoured to receive so much praise for this medal,” he said. “In the mass start it is like a dream to get gold. I can’t put it into words.”

LADIES’ MASS START

The evening began with the semi-finals of the ladies’ mass start, 16 laps of the oval and with four sprints built into the race for skaters to accumulate points for first, second and third places. The top eight of 12 skaters qualified for the final.

In the first semi-final, Japan’s Takagi won the first sprint to earn five points, which qualified her in fifth place. She was joined by China’s Guo Dan in second place and Korea’s Kim Bo-reum in sixth. In the second semi-final, another member of Japan’s gold medal-winning pursuit team, Ayano Sato, stumbled over Canada’s Ivanie Blondin entering the home straight ready for the second sprint.

The Japanese skater remained on the ice after the crash and was nursing an injured left elbow as she skated off the track, her race over on Lap 8. China’s Li Dan qualified in third place. 

MEN’S MASS START

The men’s semi-finals followed, and the first race involved local speed skating hero Lee as well as Japan’s Shane Williamson and Kazakhstan’s Fedor Mezentsev. Lee won the second sprint for five points, enough for him to relax the rest of the way and qualify in sixth place, and he was joined in the final by Williamson, who was third after a strong finish.

In the second semi-final, Korea’s Chung Jae-won won the second sprint for five points and finished sixth, but Japan’s Ryosuke Tsuchiya and China’s Wang Hongli failed to qualify in 11th and 12th places respectively.

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