SOCHI, Russia — Zhang Hong pulled off a stunning victory in the women’s 1,000 meters Thursday and gave China its first gold ever in Olympic speedskating.
Zhang, who had not done much on the World Cup circuit this season, skated in the seventh of 18 pairs based on her middling results. But she posted a stunning time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, breaking the track record and just missing the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Zhang was merely a spectator through the second half of the competition, the supposed big guns taking over after the ice was resurfaced. But her smile kept getting bigger as no one came close to beating her time.
The Dutch ran their Sochi speedskating medal haul to 12. Ireen Wust took the silver in 1:14.69, while Margot Boer earned bronze in 1:14.90. No one else was within a second of Zhang’s time.
It was another hugely disappointing performance for the Americans, who have yet to win a medal at the speedskating oval.
Heather Richardson came in ranked No. 1 in the World Cup standings, just ahead of her teammate Brittany Bowe, who set a world record in the 1,000 on the high-altitude ice at Salt Lake City just three months ago.
Richardson was briefly in third place, but knew her time was unlikely to hold up with three pairings left; she wound up seventh in 1:15.23. Bowe went in the next-to-last last group and faded badly over the final lap, winding up eighth in 1.15.47 — nearly 1½ seconds off the winning time.
Other U.S. finishers were Sugar Todd, from Milwaukee, in 32nd with a time of 1:19.13, and Kelly Gunther, from Lorain, in 33rd with a time of 1.19.43.
While few people touted Zhang as a medal contender, her second-place finish at last month’s world sprint championships — even with many of the top skaters choosing not to compete — showed she was in good form coming into Sochi.
Zhang nearly pulled out a medal in the 500, again skating from an early group that signifies a lower-ranked skater. She led through much of the opening round, but went slower in the second heat and finished fourth, missing a bronze by a tenth of a second.
Now, she’s got something even better.
The Dutch settled for the next two spots on the podium, keeping up a staggering performance that has them on the cusp of breaking the previous record for most speedskating medals by a country at a single Olympics — East Germany’s 13-medal showing at the 1988 Calgary Games.
Wust added to her gold in the 3,000 and now has five career medals. Boer picked up her second bronze of the Sochi Olympics, also finishing third in the 500.