SALT LAKE CITY - The wild and unpredictable sport of short-track speed skating took another strange skid last night, but this time the controversial result hoisted Apolo Anton Ohno to the gold medal, as opposed to the silver medal he won sliding across the finish line in the 1,000 meters Saturday night.
Ohno, the 19-year-old from Seattle with the small patch of hair on his chin and the bad-boy reputation coming into Salt Lake City, was awarded his first Olympic gold when Kim Dong-sung of South Korea was disqualified for blocking the path to the finish line in the 1,500 meters as they entered the last turn after 13 strategically skated laps.
Kim appeared to shift subtly as Ohno made a late charge after spending most of the race back in the pack of six skaters. Ohno pulled back his arms, as if to theatrically demonstrate that he had been obstructed. With the fans at the Salt Lake Ice Center booing, the lead race official soon indicated that he agreed.
"I wanted to wait as long as possible," Ohno said after dropping to his knees when he realized he had won and then hugging his father, Yuki. "There was a lot of traffic. I set up the Korean real nice. He just came over on me a little too hard.
"I came out of the corner with great acceleration, came on him real tight, got inside of him and he just moved over on me, changed my track a little bit."
Just enough, apparently, to create one more controversy for the 2002 Winter Games. Kim was clearly stunned and disgusted as he circled the ice carrying the South Korean flag. He slammed the flag down to the ice, picked it up and fired it down again.
The official who made the call was James Hewish, an Australian who was also the chief official in the 1,000 meters, when another Australian, Steven Bradbury, was the beneficiary of Ohno's misfortune. Bradbury was the last skater standing after Ohno, the leader in the final turn, and the other skaters fell.
Ohno's winning time last night was recorded as 2:18.541. Li Jiajun of China won the silver medal, while Canada's Marc Gagnon, the reigning world champion at 1,500 meters, took the bronze.
For Ohno, the wait for gold probably seemed endless, even though it was just four days longer than he initially planned.
Ohno was promoted as a potential four-gold American coming into the games, but that was undoubtedly a reach, given the quality of skaters like Kim and Gagnon and the sport's unpredictability.
Ohno had said he did not think there would be any ill effects from the six stitches that were needed to close the one-inch gash he got in the 1,000 meters. This time, Ohno said he was determined to avoid congestion, as much as he could in this roller derby on ice. "Maybe next time I need to be a little farther out in front," he said.
This time it was Bradbury who lost his balance in his quarterfinal heat as the skaters rounded the last turn. Down he went, skidding to the finish and somehow holding third, finding good fortune from a new position and perspective.
Bradbury's luck ran out in the semifinals, though. In the same heat, Ohno bided his time but qualified, finishing second with a late burst of inside speed. Compatriot Rusty Smith, who will join him in the 3,000-meter relay Saturday night, did not survive the semis, finishing third behind Kim and a late-rushing Bruno Loscos of France.
Ohno will have his chance for two more gold medals Saturday in the 500 meters and the relay. Whatever the outcomes, Ohno said he had what he came for.
"I come here, perform my best and get a gold medal," he said. "I'm good now."
Intentionally pushing, obstructing or colliding with another racer calls for the offender's disqualification. Improperly crossing the course - cross-tracking - is also prohibited.
The lead skater has the right of way and the passing skater must avoid body contact.
Skaters also are disqualified for changing lanes or altering their course at the finish. Competitors are required to skate in a straight line from the end of the corner to the finish line. Veering inside or outside to maintain the lead is grounds for disqualification.