By Julien Pretot
BEIJING (Reuters) -Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands claimed her first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics on Friday by retaining her short track speed skating 1,000 metres title in dominant fashion, while Arianna Fontana suffered heartbreak.
The 24-year-old, who was beaten by Italy’s Fontana in the 500 metres earlier this week and crashed out in the mixed team relay, led from start to finish to stay out of trouble.
“The mixed relay was really frustrating especially because it was a team event,” Schulting told a news conference.
“In the 500 metres I lost to a great athlete, but at the medal plaza, standing on the podium I thought, ‘Wow, I want that (gold) medal’,” she added.
After winning her quarter-final race in one minute 26.514 seconds to break the world record set by South Korean Shim Suk-hee in 2012 by 0.147 seconds, Schulting beat South Korea’s Choi Min-jeong in a tight finish.
“The plan last year was to put the goal on my shoe,” said Schulting.
“It was 1:26.500. I did it again this year and when I saw the screen I thought, well that’s pretty damn close,” she said.
Choi said she was delighted with her medal – South Korea’s 50th of any colour in Olympic short track speed skating over the years.
“South Korea is a powerhouse of short track, we feel a lot of pressure, so I’m very happy tonight,” she said.
Belgian Hanne Desmet took third place after Fontana made contact with American Kristen Santos, with both skaters skidding out of contention.
Schulting’s hopes of a clean sweep – a feat she achieved at the COVID 19-hit world championships last year – came to an end earlier this week when her fall eliminated the Netherlands from the mixed team relay. She then had to settle for silver behind Fontana in the 500 metres.
In the 1,000 metres, however, Schulting is nearly unbeatable and she delivered at the Capital Indoor Stadium, racing like she usually does, taking a fast start and maintaining a lung-busting pace for her opponents.
She was already ahead of the pack when Fontana, who was hoping to become the only Italian Winter Olympian with 11 medals, lost her balance and made contact with Santos.
Both slipped into the safety pads, while Desmet just had to stay up on her skates to take an unexpected third place and become only the second Belgian woman to win a medal at a Winter Games after Micheline Lannoy won the figure skating pairs title with Pierre Baugniet in 1948.
“It’s awesome. A bronze medal, any medal means a lot for Belgium at the Olympics,” said Desmet.
Schulting, whose gold medal was the 50th for the Netherlands at Winter Olympics over the years, will also be the favourite for next week’s 1,500 metres.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pritha Sarkar)