By Elaine Lies
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Italy's Arianna Fontana won a dramatic Olympic women's 500 meters race on Tuesday after a photo finish with home favorite Choi Minjeong who was later disqualified.
The 27-year-old Fontana, who had won four bronze and one silver medal in previous Olympics but never before topped the podium, finished in 42.569 seconds ahead of Yara van Kerkhof of the Netherlands and Kim Boutin of Canada.
Fontana celebrated victory by wrapping herself in an Italian flag and skating around the ice.
"I knew needed to start first and I knew I had to go fast right away because I knew Choi was going to come," she told a news conference.
"It was easy to feel her coming because of the crowd, and at the finish line she came up really fast, but I kept pushing and I kept my speed. And when I crossed the finish line in front of her, I knew that my dream had come true."
Fans packed into the Gangneung Ice Arena roared and waved South Korean flags as Choi edged close to Fontana in the closing stages, their excitement stoked by their compatriot setting an Olympic record of 42.422 in the heats.
But after lengthy deliberation by the judges Choi was disqualified for interference.
Britain's gold medal hope Elise Christie, world record holder in the 500 meters and the winner of three world titles, slipped over and finished last in the final. She was disqualified in all three events at the Sochi Olympics.
"I was knocked over, I didn’t fall on my own. I’ve worked so hard for the 500 and it was taken away from me," said the Scot whose first disqualification in Sochi was for knocking into Fontana.
"I got crashed into in the semi and so got lane four (for the final)...I know it's short track and you have to prepare for his but it hurts."
Asked about Christie's woes, Fontana said: "This is short track and it's part of the game.
"I'm sure she'll use this failure - which I don't really want to call a failure, she was in the final of the Olympics so not everyone gets to the final. I'm sure she'll use these feelings today to get into the next race and perform better."
China's Fan Kexin, world champion in the 500 meters for the past three years, was disqualified in the semi-finals.
(Additional reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)