Korean duo Lim Hyo Jun and Hwang Dae Heon won gold in unconventional fashion as a series of crashes, penalties and restarts marked two of the more unusual Men’s finals in the history of the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia on Saturday.
Lim Hyo Jun won the 1500m World title after the race was restarted © International Skating Union
Both the 1500m, won by Lim, and the 500m, won by Hwang, ended in high drama at the Arena Armeec.
The 1500m final had to be stopped and restarted halfway through its first attempt, after Keita Watanabe (JPN) bundled over Samuel Girard (CAN), who was leading the race. The crash padding system was pushed out of place as they collided heavily with it.
Watanabe was eliminated and they started again, with a seemingly unshaken Girard leading from the front once more.
But on the final corner, Hwang and Lim overtook the Canadian in a blaze of speed. Hwang crossed the line first but impeded Lim and was penalised. Lim therefore took gold, with Girard taking silver and another Korean, Lee June Seo, claiming bronze.
“I was trying very hard, so I’m very happy,” said Lim, who added his first World Championship gold medal to the 1500m Olympic gold he won at PyeongChang 2018.
For runner-up Girard, taking silver was a rewarding outcome despite his misfortune in the original race.
“It was strange that after the crash, the mat was pushed out of place, and I think the judges made the best decision for the security of the race by calling it back and starting again,” said the Canadian.
“It was a bit frustrating because I was burning after all those laps, but it was the best option for safety.
“I knew the other guys were going to think ‘Sam must be a little tired now’, because I’d been in the lead before it was restarted. But I decided to go against that and show I’m strong, so I went to the front again. And it worked pretty well.
“There was a big fight on that last corner. It’s really hard fighting against the Korean team because they’ve got so many great skaters. When you’re together, you can work with your teammate to get you both on the podium.
“So I split the pack. I feel good that at least I’ve made it onto the podium. I was trying to protect my lead on the last corner, but I’m really happy how it turned out.”
Hwang Dae Heon held off Chinese pair Wu Dajing and Ren Ziwei in the 500m final © International Skating Union
If the 1500m was action-packed, the 500m was just as eventful.
First there was the unusual sight of Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN) having to leave the ice after being disqualified for two false starts. It capped a difficult day for the Hungarian, who also got a penalty in the 1500m semifinal.
His exit left a three-man field for three medals, but in the restarted race Hwang and Wu Dajing (CHN) collided going into a corner and hit the padding system.
For a moment, it seemed that injury or disqualification might lead to another restart with only one athlete lining up - China’s Ren Ziwei.
But the judges allowed all three men to begin again and this time they all finished, with Hwang holding off Wu to win.
“I was in a lot of pain from the crash, but I kept going. I’m very happy, because he is the best,” said Hwang of Wu.
Meanwhile, the man who is regarded as the king of the 500m was left disappointed.
“I always want to win, I never want to lose,” Wu said.
“We will look within ourselves to keep improving. Ren and myself have performed well, so we will keep going. We always aim for the top, and I haven’t lost much since 2018. I will keep trying.”
Hwang goes into day two in the leader’s Red Hat, with Lim in second place and Girard in third.