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Korean Times / Sports

Choi Min-jeong disqualified from 500-meter final

Short-track speed skater Choi Min-jeong rests on the ice rink after apparently finishing second in the women's 500-meter final race at the Gangneung Ice Arena, Tuesday. She was later disqualified from the final for interfering with other skaters. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Olympic gold medal favorite Choi Min-jeong was disqualified from the women's 500-meter short-track speed skating final for interfering with other skaters.

She finished second following Arianna Fontana of Italy in the race at the Gangneung Ice Arena, Tuesday.

But she was disqualified after a video review.

It was her Olympic debut.

After the race, Choi was emotional but tried to ease her feelings.

"I would accept the decision because that's what the referees did," she said in an interview. Her voice trembling and tears welling up in her eyes. But she didn't cry.

"I have no regret about the way I skated and I am happy with it," she said. "But I regret I didn't pull together a better result before the home fans who cheered for me all during the race."

Choi said she would try to forget what happened in the 500-meter race and fully focus on preparing for the forthcoming 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races.

Fontanna won a gold medal with 42.569 seconds, followed by Yara Van Kerkhof of the Netherlands and Kim Boutin of Canada.

Britain's Elise Christie, who set a world record of 42.335 seconds, also failed to make the cut. But her world record still stands.

The disqualification of Choi from the 500-meter race came as a shock because she was the odds-on gold medal favorite.

In the quarterfinals, she finished second in Heat 4 with 42.996 seconds. She barely made the cut as she qualified for the semifinals after a video review.

Choi had an upset victory in Heat 1, finishing first with a new Olympic record of 42.996 seconds.

The women's 500-meter race is not her main area of specialization, although she ranks first in the world there. Choi is a gold medal favorite for the women's 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races which will be held later in the Games.

Before the race, all eyes were on Choi as she was highly expected to write a history in women's short-track speed skating.

No Korean skaters have won a gold medal in women's 500-meter race. Although they have dominated almost all competitions, the gold medal drought has continued since it became an Olympic sport in 1992. Retired short-track speed skating legend Chun Lee-kyung and Park Seung-hee won bronze medals each at the 1996 Nagano and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, respectively.

Experts say Korean skaters are not physically fit for the relatively shorter race. The 500-meter race requires athletes to skate with muscle fitness because they have to bring out power to skate fast. For that reason, western skaters are more physically fit for the shorter race than Koreans.

Korean skaters are better at longer races as they have stronger skating skills than athletes from other countries.

Before the Olympics, Choi built up her musculature to skate with power. It was part of her two-year long tailored program to win the 500-meter competition at the Olympics. She gained 5 kilograms and had more muscle power.

Before the race, Choi said she was set for the 500-meter race.

Asked who was her biggest rival, she pointed to herself, instead of naming other athletes. She revealed confidence ahead of the race.

But her years-long endeavor went in vain with her disqualification from the final.