|Wang Meng from China celebrates her woman's 500
metres short track speed skating final at the Torino 2006 Winter
Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, February 15,
After all the drama of the past few days, this was almost a can't-miss
for the Chinese, a powerhouse in Summer Olympics but who only won their
first Winter gold in Salt Lake City four years ago.
Overwhelming favorite Wang Meng won China the first gold medal in
Turin, holding off Bulgaria's Evgenia Radanova by the length of a skate in
the women's 500-meter short track final Wednesday night.
"It was challenging," Wang said. "It was very close at the end."
She still has three races to go, and "I haven't turned off the power,"
The 20-year-old Wang is skating in her first Olympics and won all four
World Cup races in the 500 this season.
For the Chinese, though, so much had gone wrong already that nothing
could be taken for granted, especially in the thrills-and-spills sport of
short track speedskating.
On Tuesday, Wang Manli was just as big a favorite in the women's long
track 500 and she crumbled under the pressure, winning silver.
A day earlier, Zhang Dan crashed spectacularly in the final of the
figure skating pair's competition, effectively ending any hope to earn
gold with her partner, Zhang Hao.
Wang Meng however fulfilled all expectations of her nation, getting off
the line first and holding the lead the rest of the way. The only time she
crashed was during a victory lap when her skate got tangled in the Chinese
flag and she tumbled to the ice.
Radanova made a desperate lunge
for the finish, falling after she crossed and sliding into
the padding. But it was only good enough for her second straight silver
medal in the 500.
At the end of the race, Wang had no doubts that she had won, roaring in
delight and speeding across to her coach for a hug and to pick up a huge
Chinese flag which she took on a victory lap of the Palavela rink.
Radanova, the 2002 silver medallist and European champion, looked
disappointed as she took the second step on the podium while Wang jumped
up and down on the gold spot, giving the thumbs up and V for victory sign
and kissing the Chinese flag on her top.
Canada's Anouk Leblanc-Boucher, seen as an outsider coming into the
Olympics, crossed the line almost at the same time as China's Fu Tianyu
and thought she had been pipped to the podium until Fu was disqualified
Leblanc-Boucher looked as happy as if she had won the gold, hardly
believing she was stepping up on to the Olympic podium having only ever
won one World Cup medal in the 500 in 2004/05.