The Associated Press SOCHI (AP)—Zhang Hong put up an early time no one could beat. Not the Dutch, though they are still flying high at the Sochi Olympics.
Certainly not the Americans, who can’t get up to speed at Adler Arena.
While Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe were the latest U.S. heavyweights to flame out, Zhang gave China its first speedskating gold medal ever with a stunning victory in the women’s 1,000 meters Thursday.
The winning time of 1 minute 14.02 seconds was nearly seven-10ths faster than anyone else—a huge margin in this event.
“I saw the time pop up and was thinking ‘This is amazingly fast,’” said silver medalist Ireen Wust of the Netherlands. “I had never done a 1:15 at sea level.”
Zhang, who had not done much on the World Cup circuit this season, skated in the seventh of 18 pairs based on her middling results.
But her time broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Wust took the silver in 1:14.69, while Dutch teammate Margot Boer earned bronze in 1:14.90.
Zhang’s winning margin—0.67—was the largest in the women’s 1,000 since Bonnie Blair’s runaway victory at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. In fact, it was larger than the last four Olympic races combined.
Beyond Boer, no one else was within a second of the winning time.
Taking a while to get up to speed, Zhang’s time over the first 200 meters, a half lap, was only the 11th-fastest of the day. But her second lap was quicker than anyone else, and she was really rolling the last time around the oval, covering the distance in 28.99. Only six other skaters broke the 30-second barrier on their final lap.
“She is known as the lady of the fastest lap,” Wust said.
Many fans didn’t even see the gold-medal performance, drifting in late since the supposed big guns were all set to go in the second half of the session. Zhang was merely a spectator after the ice was resurfaced at the midway point, but her smile kept getting bigger as no one came close to beating her.
“I was very nervous, very excited waiting for the last pair,” she said. “I did my best. The final result didn’t matter.”