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After all the drama of the past few days, this was almost a can't-miss for the Chinese, a powerhouse in Summer Olympics but who only won their first Winter gold in Salt Lake City four years ago. |
Overwhelming favorite Wang Meng won China the first gold medal in Turin, holding off Bulgaria's Evgenia Radanova by the length of a skate in the women's 500-meter short track final Wednesday night.
"It was challenging," Wang said. "It was very close at the end."
She still has three races to go, and "I haven't turned off the power," she said.
The 20-year-old Wang is skating in her first Olympics and won all four World Cup races in the 500 this season.
For the Chinese, though, so much had gone wrong already that nothing could be taken for granted, especially in the thrills-and-spills sport of short track speedskating.
On Tuesday, Wang Manli was just as big a favorite in the women's long track 500 and she crumbled under the pressure, winning silver.
A day earlier, Zhang Dan crashed spectacularly in the final of the figure skating pair's competition, effectively ending any hope to earn gold with her partner, Zhang Hao.
Wang Meng however fulfilled all expectations of her nation, getting off the line first and holding the lead the rest of the way. The only time she crashed was during a victory lap when her skate got tangled in the Chinese flag and she tumbled to the ice.
Radanova made a desperate lunge for the finish, falling after she crossed and sliding into the padding. But it was only good enough for her second straight silver medal in the 500.
At the end of the race, Wang had no doubts that she had won, roaring in delight and speeding across to her coach for a hug and to pick up a huge Chinese flag which she took on a victory lap of the Palavela rink.
Radanova, the 2002 silver medallist and European champion, looked disappointed as she took the second step on the podium while Wang jumped up and down on the gold spot, giving the thumbs up and V for victory sign and kissing the Chinese flag on her top.
Canada's Anouk Leblanc-Boucher, seen as an outsider coming into the Olympics, crossed the line almost at the same time as China's Fu Tianyu and thought she had been pipped to the podium until Fu was disqualified for crossing.
Leblanc-Boucher looked as happy as if she had won the gold, hardly believing she was stepping up on to the Olympic podium having only ever won one World Cup medal in the 500 in 2004/05.