The damage had occurred in a collision immediately after the start which saw the Australian Steven Bradbury slide into the boards. Because the skaters had not cleared the first bend, there was a restart, but O'Reilly was not allowed to leave the ice to replace his ruined left skate blade, despite furious protests from the rinkside by the British coach, Archie Marshall. 'What is going on?' Marshall yelled. 'What is this?'
It was a nightmarish re-run of O'Reilly's ill fortune two days beforehand when he made an early exit from the only other individual short-track event here, the 1,000m. That time he damaged his right blade as he started his opening heat.
Last night, O'Reilly was far more savagely handicapped as he strove to hold an early lead before finishing last. Later, Nicky Gooch, denied a silver medal for charging in the 1,000m, qualified safely in an Olympic record time of 44.03sec,
'I will never accept what the referees have done out there,' said Marshall. 'They have endangered the lives of their skaters by insisting the race went on. They should never be allowed to referee any other event anywhere.'
O'Reilly held the gouged and broken blade in front of him. 'There it is in all its glory,' he said. 'The blade just wasn't gliding. I can't believe it. When shit happens, it happens.' At the Albertville Games two years ago, O'Reilly's chances ended with two heavy falls.
Oksana Baiul, Ukraine's world champion, gashed her right shin and injured her lower back in a collision with another skater in practice yesterday. Baiul, lying second to the American Nancy Kerrigan, may not skate in tonight's free programme.
The Harding-Kerrigan Olympic figure skating duel on Wednesday was watched by 110,530,000 people in the United States, according to research for the broadcasters, CBS. It was watched in more than 45.687m homes and nearly two-thirds of Americans watching television saw it.
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