South Korean women fall ... and still set short track relay Olympic record

South Korea fell — and still set an Olympic record in the women’s 3000-meter short track relay.

It was as big a gift as any competing country could ask for: Early in the race, a South Korean skater fell.

South Korea? Fall?

This was the country that has taken gold in the 3000m in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2014. It would have been a sizable upset for South Korea to be left off the podium. It would have been nothing shy of stunning if it didn’t make it past the semifinals.

“There’s still time,” NBC commentator, and U.S. speed skating legend, Apolo Ohno, warned.

Indeed.

For there was South Korea, gaining, gaining, gaining — and then taking the lead. And taking that lead and stretching it further, to the point that Ohno openly wondered how much distance South Korea must spot the rest of the world to actually lose a race.

South Korea fell, and still set an Olympic record (AP).
South Korea fell, and still set an Olympic record (AP).

Evidently more than what it did. (The broadcast estimated the South Koreans lost about a quarter of a lap due to the fall). Not only did South Korea win its heat and secure yet another spot in a 3000m final on Feb. 20, it did so in an Olympic record time of 4 minutes, 6.387 seconds, more than a second faster than runner-up Canada and three seconds faster than Hungary.

At this point, this is to be expected from the world’s powerhouse in short track skating. Since 1992, South Korea has won 26 total Winter Olympics gold medals. Twenty-one of them have come via short track, with a 22nd likely.

The Olympic record, though, didn’t stand long. In the ensuing heat, China dropped that record by more than a second, winning its heat in 4:05.315 — though the Chinese did it while on their skates the whole time. One can’t help but wonder how low the South Koreans could have gone should they have done the same.

Perhaps we’ll find out 10 days from now in the finals.

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