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China, South Korea ready to rumble in short track

February 17, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The last two individual short track events of the Sochi Olympics get underway with heats in the men’s 500 and women’s 1,000 meters.

The only final on Tuesday is the women’s 3,000-meter relay, featuring China and South Korea in a rematch of the dramatic final four years ago in Vancouver.

In the men’s 500 heats, Viktor Ahn of Russia opens his bid to become the first skater ever to win a gold medal in all four short track events. Ahn won his adopted country’s first gold in the sport in the 1,000 on home ice, and he earned a bronze in the 1,500. Born in Seoul, Ahn became a Russian citizen in 2011, after winning gold medals in the 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000 relay for South Korea at the 2006 Winter Games.

In the women’s 1,000 heats, Park Seung-hi, Shim Suk-hee and Kim Alang give South Korea a powerful trio of medal contenders.

Here are five things to watch for on Day 4 of short track at Iceberg Sports Palace:

WOMEN’S 3,000 FINAL: It’s China vs. South Korea, Round 2. In 2010, South Korea crossed the finish line first only to be disqualified for impeding. China was awarded the gold, Canada took silver and the U.S. earned bronze. The Koreans were left in tears. Short track’s two superpowers will go at it again in Sochi. The Koreans are ranked first in the World Cup standings, having won three of four events during the season, with China taking the other title. The Korean team of Shim Suk-hee, Kim, Park and Cho Ha-ri recently set a world record in the relay. Also vying for medals are Canada and Italy.

WOMEN’S 1,000 HEATS: South Korea has dominated this event, winning gold at four of the last six Olympics. Defending champion Wang of China broke her ankle last month and was forced to miss the games. Park won the bronze in Vancouver, and will try to move up on the podium. Alang is ranked second in the world in the 1,000.

FONTANA GOES FOR 3: Arianna Fontana of Italy tries to become the second woman to medal in all three individual short track events at a single Winter Games. She earned silver in the 500 and bronze in the 1,500 in Sochi. She can equal China’s Wang Meng by winning a medal in the 1,000, but first she’ll have to get through three rounds of racing to reach Friday’s final. Fontana’s fiance, U.S.-born Anthony Lobello, will skate in the 500 heats for Italy.

MEN’S 500 HEATS: Ahn’s strategy of skating in the back of the pack early and then pouncing on his rivals late won’t work in the 500, where a fast start is crucial. He drew the far outside No. 4 lane in his opening heat. Ahn’s challengers include defending Olympic champion Charles Hamelin of Canada, who fell in the 1,000 quarterfinals after winning gold in the 1,500; 500 world record holder J.R. Celski of the U.S.; Wu Dajing of China; and Jean Olivier of Canada.

WINLESS AMERICANS: The U.S. has no medals through the first three days of short track. In Vancouver, the Americans won six. Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., and Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., will skate in the 1,000. Scott was a surprise finalist in the 1,500, but was involved in a three-skater crash and finished fifth. In the men’s 500, Celski of Federal Way, Wash., Eddy Alvarez of Miami, Fla., and Jordan Malone of Denton, Texas, will compete. Malone landed in the toughest heat of the trio and will skate against Ahn, with only the top two moving on. Celski eliminated himself when he clipped a block and fell in the 1,000, while Alvarez was taken out by another skater in a semifinal crash. “There’s no explanation for it. There’s no blame to be laid anywhere,” U.S. coach Stephen Gough said. “We’re just hoping that some of that stuff goes our way and other people make the mistakes.”

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