WASHINGTON — It looked like the United States was going to have a good shot at earning a medal in the Olympic debut of mixed relay short track speedskating, until a costly penalty knocked them out of contention in the semi-finals.
The frantic event features four skaters per team covering 18 laps. Each skater races twice in the following order: woman, woman, man, man, woman, woman, man, man.
During the second semi-final race on Saturday, the U.S. crossed the line second and appeared to secure a spot in the gold medal race.
However, after a lengthy video review the official decided the United States would be penalized because of "blocking by infield skater" and the Russian Olympic Committee would be penalized because of "extra team skater causing obstruction."
According to USA TODAY's Tom Schad, the U.S. athletes believe they were disqualified because one of their skaters crossed the blue line early, which caused the Chinese team to miss an exchange.
After the race, U.S. speedskater Maame Biney called it "an interesting call for sure," according to Schad.
Those penalties meant that Hungary and China, who had initially finished fourth in the semi-final and missed the cut, would go through to the gold medal race.
It turned out to be a huge decision because China wound up winning its first gold of the Beijing Games, emerging victorious in the debut event's final.
But the final got off to a rocky beginning, with Hungary and Canada crashing in the first turn, forcing the race to be called back to the start.
Wu Dajing edged Italy’s Pietro Sighel by .016 seconds. That's half a skate blade. Hungary earned bronze Saturday night.
The results were delayed while the referee reviewed the race. Canada was penalized for pushing from behind and causing contact with Hungary.
China was the favorite coming in, having led the World Cup standings this season.
Team USA is still looking for its first medal of the Beijing Olympics.
Music blared, colored lights flashed and one of the Olympic mascots waddled around, but the usually raucous atmosphere for short track was absent at Capital Indoor Stadium. COVID-19 restrictions kept most of the 17,345 seats empty. The only spectators were Chinese and they shouted behind masks for their country's skaters, but otherwise clapped politely and waved tiny flags.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.