Japan’s Wataru Morishige takes speedskating bronze as China’s Gao Tingyu sets Olympic record

Japan’s Wataru Morishige earned bronze as Gao Tingyu won China’s first men’s speedskating Olympic gold on Saturday in the 500 meters.

Gao smashed the Olympic record to cross the finish line in 34.32 seconds as spectators cheered him on at National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing.

Gao set the pace early as the seventh pairing out of 15, finishing the single lap around the oval in a time that his rivals failed to beat.

In an all-Asian podium, Cha Min-kyu of South Korea claimed silver in 34.39 seconds, ahead of Morishige in 34.49.

Favorite Laurent Dubreuil of Canada missed out on a podium place, finishing fourth and two-tenths of a second behind Gao with a time of 34.52 seconds.

Anticipation in the oval grew as Dubreuil stood on the starting line next to Japan’s Tatsuya Shinhama in the last pairing. Almost as if to break that pressure, they began with a false start, before shaking off the tension and getting underway.

Shinhama was tipped to challenge for gold, but he appeared to stumble in the first few strides of the race and was quickly out of the running. He finished 20th in 35.12.

Yuma Murakami, Japan’s other skater in the race, finished eighth in 34.57.

Morishige’s medal is the first for Japan in the men’s 500 since Keiichiro Nagashima won silver and Joji Kato bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

After the last pair finished, Gao did a victory lap around the oval with the Chinese flag draped around his shoulders, savoring the moment as he looked up at the spectators. At one point he let out a roar and broke into a wide smile.

Gao became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic medal in speed skating four years ago when he won bronze in the same event.

Gold medalist Gao Tingyu of China celebrates on the podium next to South Korea's Cha Min-kyu and Japan's Wataru Morishige.  | REUTERS
Gold medalist Gao Tingyu of China celebrates on the podium next to South Korea’s Cha Min-kyu and Japan’s Wataru Morishige. | REUTERS

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