China has won its first gold medal of the Beijing Games, narrowly taking out the short track speed skating mixed team relay in its Olympic debut.
Wu Dajing edged Pietro Sighel of Italy by .016 of a second – or half a skate blade – to claim gold on Saturday night and Hungary won bronze.
Qu Chunyu, Fan Kexin and Ren Ziwei combined with Wu for the historic victory in front of a small number of Chinese fans at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Arena.
The results were delayed while the referee reviewed the race. Canada was penalised for pushing from behind and causing contact with Hungary late in the final.
That set the stage for China to build a big lead over Italy going into the latter stages of the race.
But the Italians rallied, careening around the rink in hot pursuit of the home team. Sighel nearly caught Wu in what would have been a huge upset.
China was the gold-medal favourite, having led the World Cup standings this season.
The frantic event features four skaters per team covering 18 laps, with each team member racing twice.
The final had a rocky beginning, with Hungary and Canada crashing on the first turn, forcing the race to be restarted.
China needed some help even reaching the A final.
It took penalties to the United States and Russian team to elevate the Chinese to the final, along with Hungary, which won its semi-final.
The US was called for blocking by an infield skater after the Americans had finished second. The Russians were penalised for an extra skater on the team, causing an obstruction.
The Netherlands, ranked second, didn’t advance when Suzanne Schulting crashed on a turn early in their semi.