Schedule of Events
Untimely injuries can be the death of legends. So it is for Wang Meng, the Chinese speed skater who won three gold medals in Vancouver and currently holds the world championship in the 500 and 1000. With another gold medal (as well as a silver and bronze) from Torino, Wang was already the most decorated Chinese athlete in Winter Olympic history. But instead of defending her titles in Sochi, Wang will be sitting back home in China trying to return to health after a fluke practice accident less than a month before the Sochi Games resulted in a double fracture in her right ankle.The Chinese will instead turn to Fan Kexin, a 20-year-old who finished second behind Wang on the World Cup circuit in the 500m standings this season and could take a star turn in Sochi. Fan should be able to defend China’s hold of the gold at the shortest distance, though her pace falls off beyond 500 meters. At the longer distances, they will turn to defending 1500m Olympic gold medalist Zhou Yang. Just 22 years old, Zhou will have a good chance at returning to the Olympic podium in Sochi.
However, she will have to contend with South Korea’s Shim Suk-Hee, who has the potential to take charge of both the 1000m and 1500m races. The overall world junior champion in 2012, Shim is just 17 years old but has already started to obliterate senior competition. She is the two-time defending overall World Cup champion and should only improve with time, offering the opportunity for Sochi to serve as a coronation of sorts before she even leaves her teenage years behind.
The Koreans will be in great shape, with their depth of talent beyond Shim making them the favorites in the 3000m relay. Park Seung-Hi, a bronze medalist at both 1000 and 1500 meters in Vancouver, is the reigning world champion at 1500m and will hope to take advantage of Wang’s absence to climb up the podium. 18-year-old Kim Alang will also be a podium contender for the Koreans, having finished on the podium six times in her inaugural World Cup season.
While the Chinese and South Koreans will likely be locked in a two-way battle in the individual races, Italy’s Arianna Fontana. When she was just 15, Fontana was part of Italy’s bronze-medal-winning relay team at the Torino Games. Four years later, she finished behind Wang and Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais in the 500m race at the Richmond Oval in Vancouver. This time around, the young but veteran sprint specialist could return to the podium once again.
In the team relay, the Koreans’ strength in numbers should be enough to surpass a Chinese team competing without Wang. In the mix will also be the Canadians, who will be led by St-Gelais and Kalyna Roberge. The Italians and Russians could also potentially steal away a medal, though it will likely be of the bronze variety.
Women's Short-Track Speed Skating Medal Favorites
|500m||Fan Kexin (CHN)||Shim Suk-Hee (KOR)||Arianna Fontana (ITA)|
|1000m||Shim Suk-Hee (KOR)||Park Seung-Hi (KOR)||Kim Alang (KOR)|
|1500m||Shim Suk-Hee (KOR)||Kim Alang (KOR)||Zhou Yang (CHN)|
|5000m relay||South Korea||China||Canada|
For American short-track speed skating fans used to regular podium appearances at the Olympic Games from Apolo Anton Ohno, Sochi marks the first time in the 21st century that an Olympiad will not feature the skater from Seattle. Retiring after winning a silver and two bronze medals in Vancouver, Ohno leaves a vacuum on the U.S. team that California-born J.R. Celski will try to fill.
Celski, who as a 19 year old earned a bronze medal in the 1500m race four years ago, won the most recent 1500m World Cup race at the Kolomna Speed Skating Center outside Moscow. He has a solid shot at another medal in the long distance this time around. American fans can also hold out hope for longshot Eduardo Alvarez. The 24-year-old Miami native reached the World Cup podium in Shanghai in late September, and could pull off a surprise in Sochi.Of course, these successors of Ohno will have to fend off a tough field of skaters. Charles Hamelin, the Canadian that won the 500m race on native ice four years ago in Vancouver, has dominated the longer distances on the World Cup circuit this winter. With six individual wins and ten podium appearances, Hamelin will arrive in Sochi as one of the hottest short-track skaters in the running for medals at all distances.
South Korea will have multiple hopefuls in short track. Sin Da-Woon, the reigning world champion at 1000 and 1500 meters, leads a team that also features Lee Han-Bin and Park Se-Young. One athlete it will not feature, though, is three-time Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo…
… because, you see, Ahn no longer identifies as either Hyun-Soo or South Korean. After being left off the South Korean team four years ago, Ahn is now known as Viktor Ahn and has relocated to Russia and was fast-tracked for citizenship in time to compete for his new nation at its host Olympiad. The expatriate will likely find the greatest success at the shorter two distances, and he could be the anchor of a potential podium-finishing relay team.
Liang Wenhao, though, could end up being the best of all at 500 meters. With both Ahn and the defending Olympic champion Hamelin in the field, it will be tough for China’s skating star to snatch gold. But Liang is no slouch himself; the 21-year-old will come to Russia with confidence, having won the world championship in the 500m race last winter in Debrecen. Factor in as well the on-form French sprinter, Thibaut Fauconnet, and as long as there are no mishaps — and there are always mishaps, given the snowboard-cross style nature of short-track speed skating — the duel for the 500m gold could end up being one of the most fiercely-contested medal battles of the 2014 Olympics.
The team relay will be an interesting affair as well. Look out for the Canadians, who are looking to repeat as Olympic champions, as well as the Ohno-less American squad. South Korea, despite Ahn’s defection, will also be in the podium mix, with Russia hoping to break in from the outside.
Men's Short-Track Speed Skating Medal Favorites
|500m||Liang Wenhao (CHN)||Viktor Ahn (RUS)||Charles Hamelin (CAN)|
|1000m||Viktor Ahn (RUS)||Charles Hamelin (CAN)||Sin Da-Woon (KOR)|
|1500m||Charles Hamelin (CAN)||Sin Da-Woon (KOR)||J.R. Celski (USA)|
|3000m relay||Canada||United States||South Korea|