Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Politics of Short Track

There are politics in the Olympics. It shouldn't be that way. It should be the world's finest athletes competing. But it isn't. There are always politics involved, even in short track. How can that be? Isn't short track just skating around in a circle? Yes, but consider this:

Saturday night, February 20th in the 1000 meter semi final. American J. R. Celski was in 4th place. The race was getting short, and he began to make his move. He passed Canadian skater Francois Hamelin to move into third. At that point, the Canadian began grabbing at Celski.

Men's 1000 meter short track speed skating event at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

He had his left hand on J.R.'s back, while his right hand reached all the way around to the front of J.R.'s right thigh. J.R. reached back with his left hand and swatted at Hamelin, but he didn't appear to make contact. About two seconds later, the Canadian fell.

Men's 1000 meter short track speed skating event at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

In reviewing the race, it was somehow determined that this was J.R.'s fault, and he was disqualified. Now, short track rules clearly state that when a skater is interfered with, he can be advanced to the next round only if he was already in qualifying position at the time of the interference. Francois Hamelin was not in qualifying position. He was in third place, yet he was advanced anyway. Remember this, it will be significant later.

Apolo Ohno won the second semi-final easily. The battle was for second place. And a battle it was. Charles Hamelin of Canada was in second place and Korean Sun Si-Bak was in third. Just before crossing the line, in a move much more blatant than anything J.R. Celski may have done, the Korean reached out and grabbed Hamelin and seemed to try to restrain him from crossing the finish line first.

Short Track Speed Skating

He did not succeed. By an inch of skate blade, the Canadian crossed the finish line first, yet the Korean skater was not disqualified. He went on to win the B final, from which Celski had been disqualified.

Short Track Speed Skating

So, the final race was set. It would the the Korean team of Lee Jung Su and Lee Ho Suk, the Hamelin brothers from Canada, Charles and Francois, and Apolo Anton Ohno. The race starts, and the two Canadians take the lead, followed by Apolo, then the Koreans. The time comes. Apolo makes his move. He passes Francois Hamelin, and begins winding up to pass Charles.

Olympic Winter Games - Short Track Speed Skating

But he never gets the chance. Francois Hamelin, who had been advanced from third position due to J.R. Celski's disqualification, puts his hand on Apolo's back and gives him a slight shove. Not much, but enough.

Short Track Speed Skating - Day 9

Apolo slips, stumbles, and only his supreme talent and athleticism prevents him from falling. But suddenly, he finds himself in last place, the Koreans having taken advantage of the distraction to move into first and second.

Apolo Ohno, all alone, is dead last, and he's running out of race. With what can only be described as a truly Olympian effort, he passes the two Canadians to claim the bronze.

Short Track Speed Skating

Francois Hamelin is not disqualified. The race isn't even reviewed.

Fast forward to Friday night, February, 26, to the 500 meter race. After having survived crashes in both heats, Apolo Ohno is in the final. Also skating are Korean Sun Si-Bak, and Francois-Louis Tremblay and Charles Hamelin of Canada. Apolo does not get off to a good start.

Olympics Mens 500m Finals Short Track Speed Skating - Vancouver 2010

He is in fourth place. He is beginning to make his move, to pass the pack on the inside, but the track is crowded. He puts his hand up as a cushion, he said. To keep from running over Tremblay, he said. In an unfortunately timed coincidence, Tremblay slips, catches a skate on the ice and falls.

Speed Skating

Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, the Korean passes Canadian Charles Hamelin on the outside. Hamelin reaches out, contacts the Korean, his hand under the Korean's arm and on his torso. He appears to push Sun.


The Korean falls, and in so doing, bumps Hamelin's leg. The Canadian nearly falls, but keeps his feet, spinning backwards across the finish line, followed closely by Apolo Ohno.

The race is reviewed. Correction, APOLO OHNO's race is reviewed. And though, in the 1000 meter race, Francois Hamelin was NOT disqualified for an almost identical move, in the 500 meter race, Apolo Ohno was.

Short Track Speed Skating - Day 15

And though, in this race, Charles Hamelin contacts the Korean Sun Si-Bak a whole lot more than Ohno contacted the Canadian Tremblay, he is also NOT disqualified. He is not even reviewed. No, the only one disqualified is Apolo Anton Ohno.

Short Track Speed Skating - Day 13

This disqualification gives the other Canadian skater, Francois-Louis Tremblay, the bronze medal.

The judge who made this decision...well, he is Canadian. The honorable thing for the Canadian judge to have done would have been to recuse himself from this situation. It would have been the RIGHT thing to do. But it's not what he did.

The Olympics are still a great thing, but they have fallen so far from what the ancient Greeks practiced--tests of strength and skill. These days, a medal can be won or lost on the whim of a judge.


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