Reuters - Thu, 18 Feb 05:30:00 2010
Favourite Wang Meng of China lived up to her invincible reputation when she retained her Olympic title in the women's 500 metres short track speed skating.
Canada's Marianne St Gelais drew deafening cheers from the home crowd as she celebrated her 20th birthday with a silver medal, while Italy's Arianna Fontana picked up the bronze.
"I'm still the rookie but I just made a name for myself," a tearful St Gelais said after cheering team mates greeted her with a rousing chorus of 'Happy Birthday'.
Starting from the favoured inside position, Wang led from the outset and crossed the line with several metres of daylight between her and the rest of the field.
Rivals had said before the competition that it would take a mistake from Wang for anyone else to take gold, and were really just fighting for the two other medals. They were right.
It looked too easy for the distance's four-time world champion, although she seemed to show some sign of nerves when she was cautioned for a false start after the race had already been re-started once following a first-turn crash.
"My coach and I worked on a strategy that I would concentrate on my start and not worry too much about being perfect for the entire race, I'm ecstatic," Wang said after draping a Chinese flag over her for a lap of honour.
While Wang draped a Chinese flag over her and savoured her moment, a beaming St Gelais - who got the better of her more fancied compatriot Kalyna Roberge in their semi-final - lapped up the screams of joy from the home fans in the packed arena.
The raucous atmosphere at the Pacific Coliseum was in stark contrast to the previous day's more demure mood for the men's figure skating which took place in the same arena.
There must be some sore throats after six and a half minutes of ear-splitting noise during Canada's men's 5000 metre relay earlier in the evening.
They led for much of the race but were pipped by the tip of a blade at the finish by China. It did not matter as both qualified for the February 26 final.
The United States and South Korea also qualified to ensure the event's 'big four' will contest for the medals.
They will be joined by France, who advanced after Italy were disqualified for impeding them and causing a crash which made them lose a lot of time in a chaotic race.
In the men's 1000 heats, all the favourites made it through to the quarter-finals, including the three who were on the podium in the 1500 metres - South Korean Lee Jung-su and Americans American Apolo Anton Ohno and J.R. Celski.
Home favourite Charles Hamelin, seeking to make amends for missing out on the 1500 final, qualified easily for the next round where he will be joined by brother Francois.
Britain's Jon Eley came third in his qualification heat with a time of 1:25.588. It was a personal best for Eley, but not enough to earn him a place in the next round. Tom Iveson finished fourth in his heat with a time of 1:27.841.
The medals will be decided on Saturday.
Factbox on Wang Meng:
Place of birth: Qitaihe, China
Residence: Beijing, China
Previous major Olympic results:
Gold medallist, 2006 Winter Olympics, 500m
Silver medallist, 2006 Winter Olympics, 1000m
Bronze medallist, 2006 Winter Olympics, 1500m
4x gold medallist, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2004 World Championships, 500m
2x gold medallist, 2009, 2008 World Championships, 1000m
3x gold medallist, 2009, 2006, 2003 World Championships, 3000m relay
2x gold medallist, 2009, 2008 World Championships, overall
Gold medallist, 2008 World Championships, 1500m 3x gold medallist, 2009, 2008, 2005 World Team Championships, team
6x champion, 2009/10, 2008/09, 2007/08, 2006/07, 2005/06, 2004/05 World Cup, 500m
3x champion, 2009/10, 2008/09, 2005/06 World Cup, 1000m
Champion, 2004/05 World Cup, overall
2x silver medallist, 2006, 2003 World Team Championships, team
Silver medallist, 2006, World Championships, 1000m
2x silver medallist, 2006, 2004 World Championships, 1500m, overall
Silver medallist, 2005 World Championships, 500m
2x silver medallist, 2005, 2004 World Championships, 3000m relay
Bronze medallist, 2008 World Championships, 3000m relay
Bronze medallist, 2005 World Championships, 1000m, 1500m
Wang began skating at the age of nine even though her parents were not keen for her to do so. She made her debut for China in 2002 at the World Cup in Korea.
In 2007, she threatened to quit the national team after disagreements with the coach. She was also banned from the 2007 World Championships after challenging an umpire's decision and refusing to compete.
She has since been made team captain.
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