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Gao claims China’s first gold in men’s Olympic speedskating

BEIJING (AP) – When the last pair crossed the line, the excruciating wait finally over, Gao Tingyu was swallowed by his teammates and coaches.

Then he grabbed a Chinese flag and took off on a sprint around the infield at the Ice Ribbon, the striking red banner fluttering behind his head. When he pulled up alongside the finish line, Gao let out a scream that could be heard throughout the only new venue built in Beijing for this year’s Winter Games.

Finally, a Chinese man has won speedskating gold 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 speedskating, I really love speed. I also like the sound of air beside my ear when I skate. It feels exciting.”

Gao felt plenty of excitement yesterday, setting an Olympic record with his victory in the 500 metres.

It took a while for the celebration to begin, however.

The 24-year-old Gao 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 it.

Gold medallist China’s Gao Tingyu poses on the podium. PHOTO: AFP

“It felt like I was riding a roller coaster,” Gao said. “When I finished my race, there are 16 people behind me and all of them are great. I felt some pressure until the last group of people.”

Gao knew he had at least a medal for the second straight Olympics after the next-to-last pair crossed the line. But the real celebration began when the final group finished.

Gao took bronze in the 500 at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

“This is different from four years ago,” he said “This time it comes to our home country. I felt excited and nervous. I think this is a good mentality for the competition, especially for such a big event.”

Zhang Hong had been China’s only speedskating gold medallist. She won the women’s 1,000 eight years ago in Sochi. Now, she’s got company.

“I want to give my medal to my country,” Gao said.

When Gao’s name was announced at the venue ceremony, a prelude to the medal festivities later in the evening where he was actually receiving his gold, he hopped joyfully onto the top rung of the podium, throwing both arms skyward.

“Gao was impressive,” said 2018 gold medallist Haavard Lorentzen. “He’s been a big favourite all season since he skated so fast in the first World Cup. He raced so fast that everybody thought it would be impossible to beat him at the Olympics. It’s cool to see that he succeeds on home soil.”

The silver went to Cha Min Kyu of South Korea, whose time of 34.39 gave him a matching medal to the one he earned 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 Winter Games history that three different Asian countries claimed medals in an event.

“The people back home were really hopeful and doing things like making posters for me. It was really encouraging to see that,” Morishige said. “I’m glad I could deliver a bronze medal to them.”

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