SOCHI, Russia — South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa lived up to her favorite’s role in women’s 500-meter speedskating, turning in the two fastest runs to win Olympic gold today.
Lee dominated the World Cup circuit this season, winning every event she entered, and kept up that form at Adler Arena to take her second straight Olympic 500 title.
She led after the opening heat and went even faster the second time around the big oval, an Olympic-record time of 37.28 seconds to beat the mark of 37.30 set by Catriona Le May Doan at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Lee’s combined time of 1 minute, 14.70 seconds was also an Olympic mark, beating Le May Doan’s record of 1:14.75 at the high-altitude Utah Olympic Oval.
When Lee saw the winning time, her head dropped back in obvious relief. She slapped her coach’s hand and grabbed a South Korean flag, reveling in a triumph that seemed assured the moment she toed the line in Sochi.
The only real race was for silver and bronze. The Russian crowd roared when Olga Fatkulina took the host country’s second speedskating medal, finishing second in 1:15.06. Margot Boer was next with a combined time of 1:15.48, giving the Netherlands its eighth speedskating medal in Sochi. It was the first event at the Adler Arena they’ve failed to win at these Winter Games, but was still a pleasant surprise for a team that had never been a strong contender in the all-out sprint.
The Americans have yet to make the podium.
Heather Richardson, who came into the Olympics ranked second in the World Cup standings, was fourth after the opening round and figured to put up a better time in her second race, finishing up on the outside lane. But she actually turned in a slower time, dropping all the way to eighth.
Any hope of challenging the previous U.S. high of eight medals from the 2002 and 1980 Winter Games falls on Shani Davis, who goes into the men’s 1,000 on Wednesday looking to win his third straight gold in that event.