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(BBC SPORT) The quartet of Qu Chunyu, Fan Kexin, Wu Dajing and Ren Ziwei won the thrilling event which was making its Games debut at Beijing 2022.
They clocked two minutes 37.348 seconds over 2,000m, with Italy taking silver and Hungary bronze. Earlier, Norway’s Therese Johaug dominated the women’s 15km skiathlon to win the first gold of the Games.
But it was the hosts’ gold that will really capture the imagination of a public whose Games are being held against a backdrop of controversy and coronavirus restrictions. Favourites China’s pursuit of the relay gold had been helped when world record holders South Korea were knocked out in the quarter-finals. But there had been a danger that they themselves would be eliminated in the semis, having finished third. But the race went under review for infringements and the Russian Olympic Committee were disqualified for obstruction and the United States for blocking.
In the final they were almost pipped on the line by Italy but after another review the victory stood to the delight of the few hundred fans in the arena. Short track is China’s most successful Winter Olympic sport, now accounting for 11 of the 14 gold medals they have won. China’s best showing at a Winter Olympics is 11 medals, including five golds, from Vancouver in 2010.
Meanwhile, in helping Italy to silver, Arianna Fontana became the only short track speed skater to win nine Olympic medals, having previously been tied on eight with American Apolo Ohno and Russian Viktor Ahn.
‘Dream come true’ for Johaug
Earlier in the day, 33-year-old Johaug powered away to finish 30 seconds clear of the pack in the skiathlon. The Norwegian has won 14 world titles but had never won an individual Olympic gold. Johaug missed the 2018 Pyeongchang Games while serving a doping ban. Natalia Nepryaeva, representing the Russian Olympic Committee, was second, and edged Austria’s Teresa Stadlober into bronze by less than half a second.
Stadlober looked overjoyed at her bronze, which arrived four years after she took a wrong turn when well placed for a medal in the 30km race at the Pyeongchang Games.
But Norway’s dominance of this event never looked like being stopped and the country has now won every skiathlon gold medal at the Winter Games or World Championships since 2013. “It’s a dream come true,” said the victorious Johaug. “I’ve been training a lot for this for many, many years. I’ve trained thousands of hours for this and been away from home a lot over the years. So it’s beautiful to reach this goal.
“It means a lot. I’ve never had an [individual] Olympic gold medal, it’s my first one. I’m so happy.” Johaug, the reigning world champion, led after the opening 7.5km of cross-country skiing. Over the closing 7.5km of freestyle, she increased her lead to the point where she entered the final kilometre 54 seconds in front. She eased down to celebrate as the finish line neared, her time of 44 minutes 13 seconds comfortably enough to add individual 15km gold to a relay gold she won at the 2010 Vancouver Games, a 30km silver at Sochi 2014 and a bronze in the 10km classical at the same Games.
Johaug tested positive for the steroid clostebol in 2016 and blamed the result on a lip cream she had used. Norway’s team doctor resigned over the issues, stating he had made a “personal mistake as a doctor”. After Johaug was handed an initial 13-month ban, which would have allowed her to compete in Pyeongchang, an appeal by the International Ski Federation resulted in her punishment being extended to 18 months, ruling her out of the 2018 Games.
Schouten continues Dutch dominance
Johaug’s medal was the first of six to be contested on day one of the Beijing Games. Irene Schouten set a new Olympic record time of three minutes 56.93 seconds to take women’s speed skating 3,000m gold. Her success meant the Netherlands became the first nation to win three Olympic gold medals in a row in the event. Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida – 14th four years ago – took silver while Isabelle Weidemann of Canada claimed bronze.
“There was a lot of pressure for myself and for the Netherlands and I’m so happy I made it,” said Schouten, 29. “Four years ago I did not qualify, so I wanted this one. When I was young I had a big dream to win Olympic gold and now I have it.” Norway won gold the biathlon mixed relay, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The Norwegians finished in one hour six minutes 45.6 seconds to edge out 2018 champions France by just under a second, with the Russian Olympic Committee taking the bronze.
There was a gold medal for Sweden’s Walter Wallberg in the men’s moguls on the ski slope. The 21-year-old, who tore his cruciate ligament in 2020 and, after recovering, tore his meniscus, scored 83.23 with the final run of the day.
His effort knocked Canada’s 2018 Olympic champion Mikael Kingsbury into second. “Wallberg, with the pressure on, put down the best run of the day and props on him,” said Kingsbury. Ursa Bogataj became the second Slovenian to win a Winter Olympics gold with success in the women’s normal hill individual ski jump. The 26-year-old scored a total of 239 for her two runs, enough to hold off Germany’s Katharina Althaus, who went for gold on the last run of the day but reached only 236.8. “I didn’t handle the pressure at the first Olympic Games,” said Bogataj, who placed 30th in 2018. “I don’t know how I handled it today. I can’t believe what happened.”