Controversial Turner Disqualified From 1,000
By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 1994; Page D1
HAMAR, Norway, Feb. 26 When she heard the disqualification announced, her first reaction was, "That's not me. ... I know that's not me. You've got to be kidding me."
American Cathy Turner stands only 5 feet 2, and looks more like a race horse jockey than the so-called dirtiest skater in her sport, or the menace who would turn short track speed skating into roller derby. The record book says she's the best big-race competitor her nascent Olympic event has ever had. But rivals act as if they want to bite off her head and spit it out like a watermelon seed.
Last night, 48 hours of rancor and mudslinging from the Chinese and Canadian teams seemed to overtake Turner when she was disqualified from the semifinal round of the 1,000-meter race for cross tracking, or sliding into the way of South Korean skater Kim So Hee with two laps left.
Instead of moving into the final, and most probably securing a top-three finish that would have tied her with Eric Heiden for second on the individual career medal list by a U.S. Winter Olympian with five, Turner's career ended tonight in controversy, hurt feelings and an anecdote about a nasty message she said she received on the Olympic E-Mail computer network signed, "From all the Canadians ... go to hell."
South Korean Lee Kyung Chun won the 1,000 gold in an Olympic-record 1 minute 36.87 seconds. Nathalie Lambert of Canada (1:36.97), one of Turner's chief antagonists, won the silver, and Kim, who moved into the final when Turner was booted out, got the bronze in 1:37.09.
Only the U.S. men's 5,000-meter relay team of Eric Flaim, Randy Bartz, John Coyle and Andy Gabel prevented the fallout from being worse by taking the silver medal behind Italy thus pushing the U.S. team to a Winter Olympic record of 13 medals, one more than Americans won in Lake Placid, N.Y., both in 1932 and 1980.
But Turner leaves here knowing the total could have been higher. Videotape replays seemed to support her contention that her incident with Kim was no worse than what the two the judges did not disqualify her for during Thursday's 500-meter race, which she won.
But a lot has changed in the sport since then ... .
This is only short track's second appearance as an Olympic medal sport. But International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch ordered a special report on the competition after two medal winners were disqualified earlier this week for in-race infractions, the Canadian and Chinese federations reacted bitterly when their protests involving Turner were rebuffed, then Turner and British skater Wilf O'Reilly complained about being forced to skate on damaged equipment.
The Canadians, in particular, struck a chord by saying the incivents could affect the "integrity" of the sport. But the last straw for Samaranch happened when a third medalist, Zhang Yanmei of China, stormed off the medal stand to protest Turner's racing methods in the 500.
Zhang, the world-record holder in the event, complained that Turner had hooked her leg with her left arm in the final and should have been stripped of the gold. Lambert, who clicked skates with Turner in a quarterfinal heat the same day and spun out of contention, said Turner's tactics were "brutal" and, "I hope she gets what she deserves."
Asked Thursday what that might be, Lambert told the Associated Press, "Something bad."
Turner said she already watches her skates for sabotage. But after hearing Lambert's remarks Thursday she said, "I'm a little scared right now."
In short track speed skating, competitors race hip-to-hip around a 110-meter oval set up on the same Olympic Amphitheatre rink that the figure skaters used. Because of her size and maneuverability, Turner has an advantage in the tight, counterclockwise turns skaters take at full-tilt, using their left hands to keep themselves upright. But Turner's size hardly makes her well-suited for surviving races that turn to scrums.
In the 48 hours since the 500, Turner said she slept little, fought a bout with flu, and was stung by a mean-spirited message that turned up on her E-Mail basket, under the heading:
TO: Cathy Turner
FROM: Wayne Abbott
U.S. team leader John Mortelli had what he said was a printout of the message Turner received. Below the heading the text read, "Dear Cathy, Where did you learn to skate. It's funny how every time you skate [expletive] happens. Take a look in the mirror and tell me that you can be proud. ..."
Turner said she later got a call from Abbott, a member of the Canadian team, insisting the message had been sent from someone with his access code and password into the E-Mail computer system. Turner said Abbott also told her he knew who sent the original message, and he wanted to apologize for it because "all Canadians don't feel that way."
Given all the prerace sniping about her, Turner said she knew she was going to be watched closely by the three-judge panel tonight. Despite her initial disbelief that she was disqualified rather than Kim, Turner also said she wasn't totally surprised.
"I tripped up, I think I caught a toe at some point, but I regained my balance I can't think of anything I did wrong," Turner said. "But all the controversy, the big deal they were making about me before the race ... it put so much pressure on the judges. The judges knew so much media attention was being put into this. It put them in a position where they knew they were being watched on how they'd react.
"I think they were just waiting for me to do something wrong. It's the big picture, it's not per race, it [has to do with the controversy] about the whole meet. And it was about me as a person my technique, my being aggressive."
Turner again defended her racing tactics as not dirty but, simply, proof of her competitiveness.
The other racers, she said: "They're not used to fighting for the turns. They try these really risky moves that you have to be stupid to try. ... And, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to just stand up and let them in. Maybe they forget how aggressive I am. Maybe they forgot that I can't be intimidated. I wanted to see the Canadians in the final. If I had gotten to the final, I think I would've beaten them there."
But all this controversy, all this uproar, was nothing more than what? sour grapes?
"I think they were bummed I beat them the other night." Turner nodded and shrugged. "It's the only thing I can think of."
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