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Lee smashes Olympic record in 500, defends title

Fatkulina picks up silver for Russia; Boer comes from fifth to bag bronze
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In what was the "Usain Bolt performance of the ice track," Korea's Sang-Hwa Lee set a new Olympic record en route to her second straight Olympic gold in the ladies 500 meters. Lee's total time between the two 500-meter runs was an astounding 74.70 seconds. -Getty Images

Sang-Hwa Lee of Korea won the Olympic gold medal in the ladies 500-meter speed skating event Tuesday at Adler Arena, doing so in Olympic-record times, both for her second 500 (37.28) and her total over two races (74.70). Lee improved the record that was held by Canada's Catriona LeMay-Doan, the last person to win the 500 twice in a row, in 1998 and 2002.

In second place was Olga Fatkulina of Russia, and the bronze medal went to the Netherlands' Margot Boer, who was fourth at the Vancouver Games. Boer became the first Dutch woman to win a medal in the 500, the only distance that was lacking in the Dutch medal collection.

In the first 500 of the day, Heather Richardson of the U.S. won her pair in a decent 37.73. The next pair featured two medal favorites, China's Beixing Wang and Olga Fatkulina of Russia. Fatkulina came past Wang in the last inner turn, and the Russian finished in 37.57, a minor improvement over the track record, with Wang coming in at 37.82.

In the final pair of the first 500, Lee opened in 10.33, and with a 27-second lap took the victory in 37.42, a new track record.

In the second run, the last five pairs had the top-five skaters. Boer, who was fifth after the first race, later said that it seemed as if she herself did not move from the start, and then she told herself to keep fighting.

"I thought after my first race that if Ronald [Mulder] (who came from sixth after the first race to win the bronze medal in the men's 500 meters) could move up from behind to the podium, then I should also do that."

With a good 27.1 lap after a 10.52 opener, she finished in 37.71 and a total of 75.48 over two races. In the next race, Richardson lost more than the 0.04 she had on Boer and finished in 38.02, with a total of 75.75.

The third-ranked skater, Hong Zhang, opened with a 10.77, showing that her first race was not exceptional or false-started but that she had managed to train well on improving her start. Yet, this time the energy in her race was not there, and she only finished in 38.00, for a total of 75.58, also behind Boer.

"This was my best result over two races; I am satisfied with that," Zhang said. "I worked hard on my start."

For a moment, Boer thought she had a sure medal, with only two pairs to go, but she then realized that Wang, who was ranked sixth, had to make up only 0.05 on her to reach the podium. In the penultimate pair, Fatkulina defended her silver position, coming around in 37.49, for a total of 75.06.

In the final race, Lee and Wang were paired. Lee started better, faster than anyone, in 10.17, and did not let up, finishing in her Olympic record time. Wang, after opening in 10.40, did not have a fast lap and dropped in the standings to seventh, and Boer had her medal.

Lee answered the questions in a very businesslike manner.

"I like beating the Olympic record, but I did not know that I could do that. I wasn't sure that I could get a gold medal because my left knee was hurting and other competitors had pretty good results in the season," she said. "I was very surprised that there have been no medals for the Korean men. Of course, I thought of everyone, and this made me even more determined to get the gold medal for Korea."

Kevin Crocket, Lee's coach, said, "Her first race was not so good. Her second race was more like how she can race. She needs a strong opponent; she is a racer. I said, 'You need to open well and work on your last corner with maximum effort.' She did what I said. She responds well to the pressure."

Fatkulina was really happy with her podium finish.

"This medal gives a lot of self-confidence," Fatkulina said. "This is not the end; silver medal is not the top. I am certain I can do even more. I will do my utmost in the 1,000 meters to do well."

Boer broke through after finishing fourth in Vancouver.

"When I saw that Richardson finished behind me, I thought, 'I'm not going to end up in fourth place again, am I?!" Boer said. "It is really a surprise that I won a medal; it feels like I won. I had to wait long, but I am really, really happy with it."

Richardson placed eighth, finishing just 0.27 seconds off the podium.

"There was not much difference between my two races. My snap was there," Richardson said. "It is a good warm-up for the 1,000. My speed is there. I am more calm than I was in Vancouver because I know what to expect."

American Sugar Todd did as well as could be expected of her.

"I skated two solid races, very consistent, and I really had fun," Todd said. "No pressure, I just felt 'This is the day,' and I enjoyed seeing different Americans in the stands cheering."

Bowe ended up 13th, with times of 38.81 and 38.37.

Amother American in the event, Lauren Cholewinski, finished in 15th place. She clocked a 38.54 in her first race, but her second was a 38.80.