Beijing • When Team USA’s short track mixed team relay was awarded a penalty in its Olympic semifinal at the Captial Indoor Stadium on Saturday, it ended the Americans’ chance at bringing home the first gold medal in the event.
While he was circling the infield to gain speed in anticipation of taking over the next leg of the relay from Kristen Santos, Ryan Pivorotto crossed slightly onto the track in front of a Chinese skater. Though he did not touch the other skater, the International Skating Union officials, after a lengthy review, deemed the close call to be a blocking penalty. The penalty negated the USA’s second-place finish in the heat and any chance at a medal.
“I didn’t know really what I did,” Pivorotto said, “because there was no contact.”
China came in last in the heat and would have been eliminated if it hadn’t been for the penalty on the Americans and another on third-place Russia. Instead, the hosts claimed their first gold of these Olympics. Italy took the silver and Hungary the bronze.
“It’s not fun for us, but, you know, it is what it is,” said Maame Biney, who skated the opening leg of the quarterfinals. “And I have full confidence that we raced super well and we did the best that we could. And yeah, I don’t think that we should be disappointed in ourselves, just the results, basically.”
In their quarterfinal, the Americans placed third behind Hungary and Russia but reached the semifinals on time. Adjustments made in the interim, including subbing Corrine Stoddard for Biney as the starter, proved beneficial. The USA led for most of the semifinal before Andrew Heo was passed in the final two laps of his closing leg.
Stoddard said the penalty came as a surprise.
“We weren’t even paying attention to that at all because we literally did not notice that anything happened,” Stoddard said. “We were really just focusing on the next round and had our mindset on going out there and battling.”
The mixed team relay, which was making its Olympic debut, was the first short track medal event of the Beijing Games. Kristen Santos, Pivorotto and Heo all skated the first two rounds of that event. Coincidentally, all three also advanced out of their qualifiers Saturday to compete in Monday’s medal rounds of the women’s 500 meters and men’s 1,000, respectively.
The women’s individual 1,000 and 1,500 and 3,000 relay and the men’s 500 and 1,500 still remain.
“I’m extremely excited for our women’s relay just because I have full faith that we’re going to do our best and we’re all going to pop off,” Biney said. “It’s going to be super exciting and we’re just going to, I guess, like think about today for like a second and then focus on … our other races.”