BEIJING (AP) — When the last pair crossed the line, the excruciating wait finally over, Gao Tingyu was swallowed up by his teammates and coaches.
Then he grabbed a Chinese flag and sprinted around the Ribbon Ice infield, the striking red banner waving behind his head.
When he stopped at the finish line, Gao let out a cry that could be heard in the only new venue built in Beijing for this year’s Winter Games.
Finally, a Chinese won gold in speed skating at the Olympics.
Not bad for a guy who calls himself lazy.
“I’m quite a slow person,” Gao said through a translator. “But for speed skating, I really like speed. I also like the sound of the air near my ear when I skate. That’s exciting.
Gao felt a lot of excitement on Saturday, set an Olympic record with his victory in the 500 meters.
However, the celebration was slow to begin.
Gao, 24, skated in the seventh of 15 pairs, posting a blistering time of 34.32 seconds. Then he waited nervously on the infield as 16 other skaters took aim.
No one could beat him.
“I felt like I was riding a roller coaster,” Gao said. “When I finished my race, there are 16 people behind me and they are all great. I felt some pressure until the last group of people.
Gao knew he had at least a medal for the second consecutive Olympics after the penultimate pair crossed the line. But the real celebration started when the final group finished.
Gao won bronze in the 500m at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
“It’s different from four years ago,” he said. “This time it’s about our home country. I felt excited and nervous. I think that’s a good mentality for the competition, especially for such a big event.
Zhang Hong had been the only Chinese gold medalist in speed skating. She won the women’s 1000m eight years ago in Sochi.
Now she has company.
“I want to give my medal to my country,” Gao said.
When Gao’s name was announced at the on-site ceremony, a prelude to the medal festivities later that evening where he actually received his gold, he happily leapt onto the top rung of the podium, throwing both arms toward the sky.
“Gao was impressive,” said 2018 gold medalist Haavard Lorentzen. “He’s been a big favorite all season since he skated so fast in the first World Cup. He ran so fast that everyone thought it would be impossible to beat him in the Olympics. It’s cool to see he’s succeeding at home.
Silver went to Cha Min Kyu of South Korea, whose time of 34.39 earned him a medal equivalent to the one he won four years ago in Pyeongchang.
Wataru Morishige of Japan took the bronze in 34.49, completing an Asian sweep of the podium.
It was the first time in the history of the Winter Games that three different Asian countries won medals in one event.
“People back home were really hopeful and did things like make posters for me. It was really encouraging to see that,” Morishige said. “I’m happy to have been able to offer them a bronze medal.”
Lorentzen did not come close to repeating itself.
Hampered by back problems, the Norwegian finished 15th in 34.921, more than half a second off his Olympic record of 34.41 at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.
“It’s tough to enter the race as the reigning Olympic champion,” Lorentzen said. “My physical form is good but my body is not 100 per cent.”
Reigning world champion Laurent Dubreuil just missed out on the podium finishing fourth in 34.552. He shook his head dejectedly when he saw the time on the dashboard.
“It’s not at all like it was a bad race,” Dubreuil said. “It was a good race, but it wasn’t a great race — and I needed a great race today. It’s very disappointing, but I did the best I could.
The race slipped past Dubreuil as he sprinted to the first corner. His opening spread of 9.63 was 0.21 slower than Gao’s.
“I don’t think my departure will ever be that quick,” said the Canadian. “With a 9.5 I can challenge, but when I do 9.6 it becomes very, very difficult.”
The top American finisher was 17-year-old Jordan Stolz, who finished 13th in 34.85.
The start of the competition was delayed about 20 minutes by an ice problem. The workers fixed a spot in the corner and the Zamboni had to be brought back to smooth things out.
“It’s tough, especially on the 500 where there’s so much adrenaline,” Lorentzen said. “But most of the skaters were able to perform as well as they could.”
WOMEN’S TEAM PURSUIT
Also on Saturday, Japan set an Olympic record in the team pursuit quarter-final.
Japan broke their own Olympic record with a time of 2 minutes 53.61 seconds, advancing to Tuesday’s semifinals as the top qualifier. They will be paired with the fourth fastest qualifier, Team Russia (2:57.66).
Canada (2:53.97) and the Netherlands (2:57.26) also advanced, who will advance to the other semi-final.
China and Norway are relegated to the C final. Belarus and Poland will meet in the D final.
The American women did not qualify for the event.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.