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Japan, S. Korea Win Speedskating Gold

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press
Saturday, February 21, 1998; 8:20 a.m. EST

NAGANO, Japan — The Japanese found their Shimizu of the short track today, the South Koreans won another speedskating gold medal, and the Americans suffered a medal shutout.

Takafumi Nishitani won the first Olympic short-track speedskating gold medal in Japan's history, capturing the men's 500-meter race and igniting "Banzai'' cheers at White Ring arena.

Japan, already enjoying its best Winter Olympics ever, took the bronze as well when Hitoshi Uematsu capitalized on a fall by Canada's Marc Gagnon. The silver went to China's An Yulong.

Nishitani and Uematsu circled the track carrying the rising sun flags of their homeland. Then Nishitani stopped along the boards to lead cheers from the crowd of more than 7,000. Eleven days earlier, Hiroyasu Shimizu ignited a similar outburst when he won the 500 long-track event at M-Wave.

In a thrilling finish to the women's 1,000, South Korea's Chun Lee-Kyung edged China's Yang A at the line by the length of a skate blade. Chun stumbled into the boards, arms outstretched, while Yang cupped her hands dejectedly over her face.

When the final results were posted, Yang felt even worse: she was disqualified for locking arms with Chun at the finish. The silver went to another Chinese skater, Yang S, and Won Hye-Kyung of South Korea took bronze.

The South Koreans, who are as passionate about short-track speedskating as Americans are about "Monday Night Football,'' captured gold in three of the six events at White Ring arena. Chun has two golds, having also been part of the winning 3,000-meter relay team, and a bronze in the 500.

Canada won its second short-track gold medal in the men's 5,000 relay, taking advantage of falls by the other teams. Italy went down first and wound up fourth, while a tumble by a Chinese skater took out South Korea. The South Koreans bounced back to capture silver and China settled for the bronze.

China medaled in every event, the only country to accomplish that feat, but failed to win gold.

The Americans, meanwhile, failed to win a medal for the first time since the wild-and-wacky event became an Olympic sport in 1992. The prime U.S. hopes, Andy Gabel and Amy Peterson, both were eliminated in their semifinal heats.

Gabel, a 33-year-old from Northbrook, Ill., whose younger teammates call him "Grandpa,'' was knocked out in the 500 when he clipped a lane marker and tumbled into the pads.

Peterson, a three-time Olympic medalist from Maplewood, Minn., finished last in the 1,000 semifinals.

The Americans failed to qualify for the 5,000 finals, settling for a sixth-place finish when they took second in the consolation finals.

In his race, Gabel hooked up with Japan's Takafumi Nishitani to pull away from the field. But, running a comfortable second and looking to advance to the finals, the American inexplicably nicked the lane marker and tumbled into the boards.

Gabel pounded the ice in frustration, then turned a lonely couple of laps to finish out after the other skaters were done.

"That was as good as I've ever felt,'' he said. "I just stepped on a block. That's just how it goes. I skated as well as I could and I'm satisfied with that, but it's disappointing.''

Four years ago in Lillehammer, Gabel reached the quarterfinals in the 500 before he was knocked out in a collision. The Chinese skater who initiated the contact was disqualified, but Gabel didn't finish and the judges didn't advance him. He was, however, part of the silver medal-winning relay team.

Peterson, 26, won her preliminary 1,000 heat today with an Olympic record of 1 minute, 33.530 seconds and advanced through the quarterfinals, as well.

But she never cracked the top two in the semifinals, briefly moving into third at the beginning of the last lap but dropping back again on the turn and then getting hung up behind Japan's Ikue Teshigawara. That ended any hope of catching the leaders.

"I didn't win any medals, but today I skated close to as good as I could,'' Peterson said.

Erin Gleason of Jackson, N.J., and Erin Porter of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., were eliminated in the preliminary 1,000 heats.

Without any short-track medals, the entire U.S. Olympic team in Nagano will apparently have to settle for 13 medals, matching the record set in Lillehammer.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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