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China's Li avoids wipeout, takes 500-meter gold

U.S. men advance to next round in 1,000, 5,000-meter relay
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China's Jianrou Li managed to avoid the madness going on behind her in the ladies 500-meter A final and cruised home to take the gold in 45.263. -Getty Images

The second day of short track competition at Sochi's Iceberg Skating Palace featured the ladies 500 meters, men's 5,000-meter relay semifinals and men's 1,000-meter heats.

Ladies 500m

Kexin Fan of China posted the fastest 500-meter time of the day, 43.288, in the quarterfinals. In the same race as Fan was the only American to qualify for the quarters, Emily Scott, who could not keep up with the pace; she finished in 44.709.

The six skaters who qualified for the A final hailed from four different nations. In a semifinal with three Chinese skaters, the main favorite, Fan, fell when the point of her blade stuck into the ice; Elise Christie of Great Britain had already taken the lead in that race, and never gave it up.

The 500-meter gold went to China's Jianrou Li, who profited from the fall of all three other skaters in the gold-medal race, the result of a tight overtaking maneuver by Christie. Christie and Fontana got on their feet to cross the finish line in second and third, respectively; Seung-Hi Park of Korea fell again while trying to get up and finished last. However, Christie got a penalty, and Fontana, after winning bronze at the 2010 Olympics, was awarded silver, while the bronze went to Park.

"I was confident, I believed in miracles, and now it came true," Li said. "I hugged my coach, and I was crying. I cried because I was so excited. My coach told me this medal is for Wang Meng (the reigning Olympic champion who had to forfeit her trip to Sochi due to injury) as well. I felt very moved."

Fontana told the press, "I came here with a goal to be in the A final and try to win. I knew that I could have won, but I fell. So, for me, this silver medal is equal to a gold medal."

Park said, "It was a tough day for the Korean team. The boys were not so lucky either. We still have lots of competition waiting for us, lots of opportunities for good results."

Men's 1,000m Heats

In the men's 1,000-meter heats, Chris Creveling of the U.S. had no trouble qualifying, and neither did J.R. Celski, who won his heat. Eduardo Alvarez had a harder time, as Wenhao Liang of China and Canada's Charles Hamelin battled for the lead, with Alvarez staying close behind. Then the Chinese skater made a mistake, dropping him behind, and Hamelin won the heat, with Alvarez finishing second.

5,000m Relay

The men's 5,000-meter relay had the U.S., the top-ranked team in the world, as the main favorite. There were two huge shocks in the semifinals, however: Neither defending champions Canada nor 2010 silver medalists Korea made the A final.

Netherlands, Republic of Korea, the United States and Kazakhstan competed in the first race, and it seemed like the U.S. and Korea would qualify without too much difficulty. However, with just five laps remaining, Korea's Ho-Suk Lee started falling, and Alvarez' leg stumbled over the Korean's arm, sending both crashing into the pads.

"Lee had his hand out there and held it out there, and I just happened to clip it." Alvarez said. "It didn't allow my leg to come through, and I just went down."

The race referees advanced the U.S. to the A final, with Korea making the B final.

"I was extremely nervous, because you never know how the [referees'] calls are going to go. I was just happy it went our way. Now we've got to move forward and skate to our potential in the final."

In the second semifinal, China led the race until the last lap, when Viktor An of Russia overtook the Chinese. Canada's Francois Hamelin crashed with 23 laps left to go, and Team Canada could not catch up.

Five teams qualified for the A final: Netherlands, Republic of Korea, the U.S., China and Russia.

Alvarez said, "That was the race to get through. Now we've just got to let the tiger out of his cage."

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