RICHMOND, British Columbia (AP) — The men’s speedskating 1,000 meters, which many experts considered a one-man race, has suddenly got more interesting.
U.S. skater Shani Davis was considered a certainty to win the 1,000 meters Wednesday at the Richmond Olympic Oval until an unheralded South Korean won Monday’s 500.
Mo Tae-bum’s surprise victory on his 21st birthday set him up nicely for a race that is twice as long and in which Davis is the world record holder and defending Olympic champion.
“I’m even more confident going into my other events,” Mo said.
Davis, on the other hand, might be questioning himself just a bit after his first two events of these Olympics. He finished 12th in the 5,000 — nearly 14 seconds behind the winner, Sven Kramer — and didn’t even bother finishing the 500 after placing 18th in the first of two heats.
Deciding it was time to start focusing on the 1,000, Davis called it a day, leaving the spotlight to a 21-year-old South Korean who likes motorcycles and fast cars — and going fast himself.
“The 500 meters was not my strongest,” Mo said through a translator. “However, I am looking forward to the 1,000 and will try to do my best.”
Indeed, coming into the Olympics, Mo was only ranked 14th in the 500, having failed to crack the podium in any event this season. But he’s second to Davis in the 1,000 standings, and there’s already been a bit of gamesmanship between the two during their previous encounters.
“I asked Shani before about the corner techniques and he said, ‘Oh, we are rivals, we are competitors, so I won’t be able to talk about that,’” Mo said.
Davis spoke briefly with reporters about the sloppy conditions at this facility in suburban Vancouver, which has been plagued by problems with the ice-resurfacing machines. There was a delay of more than an hour right in the middle of the first 500 heat.
“Bad ice is bad ice,” Davis said. “You’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Later, he decided there was no need to take part in the second heat.
“I think above all he wants to be fresh for the 1,000 and he wants to get ready for the 1,500 as well,” said Nathaniel Mills, a former Olympic speedskater who is serving as Davis’ spokesman at these Olympics. “The 500 has one of the greatest risks of injury and he just wanted to play it safe since he got everything he wanted to get out of this race.”
While the U.S. speedskating team has yet to win a long track medal in Richmond, South Korea — a country better known for its prowess on the short track — has two.
Lee Seung-hoon claimed an unexpected silver in the men’s 5,000 on Saturday. Mo did even better, winning his country’s first Winter Olympics gold in a sport other than short track.
“I absolutely did not expect it,” he said. “I dreamt it, imagined it, but I didn’t expect it at all.”