GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Norwegian Havard Lorentzen struck gold in the men’s 500 metres speed skating at the Gangneung Oval on Monday after edging out South Korea’s Cha Min-kyu in a dramatic photo finish.
After Cha had broken the Olympic record in a blistering lap, the ice-cool Lorentzen went 0.01 seconds faster, zooming around the track in a time of 34.41. Chinese Gao Tingyu took the bronze medal.
“I was tying my skates when Cha did his race and the atmosphere was amazing. Then he sets the Olympic record,” Lorentzen told reporters.
“I wasn’t sure I could beat that but I knew I could at least do a medal. And when I did the last 50 metres I said to myself this has to be a medal.... And then to cross the finish line and the entire stadium just goes to silence - it’s quite cool.”
Lorentzen was the first Norwegian to win the Olympic 500m title since Finn Helgesen 70 years ago and he became his country’s first medallist in the event since Magne Thomassen won silver in 1968.
Norway, once a powerhouse in the sport alongside the Netherlands, has struggled in recent decades and until Monday had not won a gold medal in speed skating at the Olympics since Adne Sondral’s victory in the 1,500m in Nagano in 1998.
Racing in the 14th pair, Cha stormed out of the gates to send the crowd wild and the Korean brought the house down when he crossed in record time with eight racers to come.
“It has more meaning that it (happened) in my own country,” the Korean said of his silver medal, speaking through and interpreter.
“There might not be another time when the Winter Olympics might be happening in Korea, so I’m so happy to get this medal.”
Lorentzen, who was in the third-last pair alongside Sochi bronze medallist Ronald Mulder of the Netherlands, was behind Cha after the first 100 metres, but edged in front over the race.
He ended with a flurry of effort, his arms and legs pumping like pistons, before waiting nervously until the timekeepers put his name up on the big screen.
“It’s the best race I’ve ever done,” said the 25-year-old, who is coached by Canadian Jeremy Wotherspoon, a former 500m world record holder.
“It’s been 20 years since the last gold (for) Norway in speed skating, so it’s been a while. It was time for Norway to step up on the top of the podium again. It feels so good to do that.”
The Dutch, who swept the podium in Sochi, finished outside the medal places for the second race in succession after their failure to medal in the women’s 500m on Sunday.
Mulder, whose twin brother Michel won gold at the last Olympics but failed to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games, was the highest-placed of the three Dutch skaters in seventh.
At the Sochi Games, the Netherlands dominated the speed skating events, winning 23 of 36 medals, including eight golds. The have won six speed skating golds in Korea so far, and 11 of the 27 medals on offer.
“It’s not good when one nation dominates (speed skating) too much. Today and yesterday there were no Dutch on the podium,” Lorentzen said. “It’s good for the sport.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings, editing by Ed Osmond