Olympics: Williams fades as British speed skaters suffer

Women's 1500m hope fails to qualify as Lindsay and Gooch also exit and Norwegian claims sixth skiing medal
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The Independent Online

Britain's first opportunity of earning a short track speed skating medal to go with the one Nicky Gooch won eight years ago in Lillehammer ended with a whimper rather than a bang here yesterday as Joanna Williams, the European bronze medallist, failed to qualify from the heats of the 1500 metres.

The 20-year-old from Beeston had hoped to make an impact on what was her favourite event, but faced with a tough draw which included the US five-times Olympian Amy Peterson and the second string Chinese skater Yang Yang (S) she was unable to maintain contact with the leaders and faded to fourth place, one away from a qualifying spot.

"I didn't feel very strong from the beginning of the race," Williams said. 'I didn't think my training had gone as well as it should have since we've been out here. I have struggled with the altitude and the time change. I still don't quite feel myself."

Her colleague, Sarah Lindsay, could count herself unfortunate after sliding out of her heat while coming under pressure from the Italian skater Katia Zini while skating in third place with six laps remaining.

"I think she was trying to make a move on the outside but she didn't have the speed,' Lindsay said. "She just lost her balance. We didn't hit and then fall, she fell and took me. It's frustrating, because in other competitions where you are taken out, you can be reinstated on appeal if you were in a qualifying position, which I was. But in the Olympics you do not have the right to appeal.

"It's frustrating, but that's our sport. These sort of things happen all the time, and you can't hold grudges. I have still got my favourite events to come at these Games."

The first gold medal of the short track programme, and the first 1500 metres to have been skated in Olympic short track, went to South Korea's 15-year-old Ko Gi-Hyun, who finished ahead of her 17-year-old team mate Choi Eun-Kyung , with the bronze going to Bulgaria's European champion Evgenia Radanova.

It was a strong statement of intent from the Korean team, which kept the favourite, China's Yang Yang (A), out of contention in fourth place.

Nicky Gooch's own unhappy record in the Olympic 1,000 metres event continued as he was knocked out of his qualifying heat after failing to find a way past the twice world champion, Li Jiajun of China, and Korea's new 16-year-old prodigy Ahan Hyun-Soo, who recently became world junior champion. "They skated a perfect race, very tight to the line, and I just wasn't able to get past them,' said Gooch, with beads of sweat pouring down his pale brow. "I made a move outside to go to the front after seven laps, but I slipped and ended back in third place, and that lost me a lot of energy."

Eight years ago Gooch thought he had won a silver medal at the event, but was disqualified for pushing. He returned to win a bronze in the next event, the 500 metres, but four years later in Nagano his luck was out again in his strongest event as he slid out of contention in the heat.

Gooch's young colleague, Leon Flack, successfully negotiated his heat, qualifying in second place for tomorrow's semi-final round. "Leon's a very talented skater," Gooch said. "If he keeps his head together he can go a long way."

Apolo Anton Ohno, burdened with the task of establishing short track speed skating in the hearts and minds of the great American public at these Games, took his first short steps towards achieving that ambition, qualifying safely from his 1,000m heat and seeing the US into the next round of the 5,000m relay after a race that had to be re-run following a crash which saw Korea's Ryoung-Min carried off on a stretcher. To add insult to injury, Ryoung-Min was disqualified for impeding.

One of the fiercest battles came in the men's cross-country skiing combined pursuit won by the Spaniard Johann Muehlegg. The real competition came at the other end of the leaderboard, however, as Jayaram Khadka, of Nepal, beat Isaac Menyoli, of Cameroon, into last place. Khadka is trained by the British businessman Richard Morley, who had promised Khadka's father to take care of his son after he died. He beat Menyoli by more than a minute. The Cameroonian finished 19.33 minutes behind Muehlegg.

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