Bart Swings of Belgium, a silver medalist in men’s mass start speed skating four years ago, clocked well on Saturday and won gold in Beijing.
Chung Jae Won of South Korea won a furious sprint between three skaters to win the silver medal. His teammate Lee Seung Hoon, the reigning Olympic champion, took bronze.
Joey Mantia, the 36-year-old American who was expected to challenge for gold, missed out on bronze in a photo-finish but later said a foul by Lee cost him a chance to get on. the podium.
“I don’t know how I feel,” Mantia said. “I hope they do something about this call in the end. I felt like I was cheated. Maybe I’m biased about it, but I felt like his hand was on my arm, pulling me back. From what I can see on the replay, my foot was in front of his, then his foot came in front of mine. How did it happen if I win over him?”
No decision came, however, and Lee joined Swings and Chung in claiming his medal. Both were officially given at the same time.
The gold was the first for Belgium at the Winter Games in 74 years.
Long Track Speed Skating can be a little quiet when it comes to longer races. At these events, athletes roll around smooth rinks, their arms resting behind their backs as they race only against the clock.
The mass start event, which first appeared at the 2018 Olympics, significantly livens things up. In the approximately four-mile race, 20 or more skaters are on the ice at the same time, drawing and jousting for position. Stay in your lane? Not in the mass start.
Even die-hard speed skating enthusiasts recognize that the mass start provides more excitement than the sport’s traditional races. “I’ve been doing long track for about six years now,” Mantia said in 2018, “and I love the sport, but sometimes it’s a little hard to watch.”
Mantia, part of the United States team pursuit team that won a bronze medal on Tuesday, started in-line skating, a sport in which nearly every race is a mass start. He knew he would face a formidable opponent in Swings, who also had a long and impressive career as an inline skater. But in a photo-finish, Mantia, the faster sprinter of the two men, was to have the advantage.
Instead, Lee beat him by what felt like less than an inch.
Irene Schouten of the Netherlands won the women’s race and captured her third gold medal of the Beijing Games, chasing down Canadian Ivanie Blondin to the finish.
Schouten screamed as he crossed the line.
“With only 500 meters to go, I thought, it’s going to slow down, I have to go faster now,” Schouten said. “I did everything and I thought: if they are faster, they are faster.
“When I came out of the last corner I felt like I had more speed than Ivanie. I just flew over that finish line.
Her gold medal in the final race of the speed skating competition provided her with the perfect bookend: her victory in the 3,000 meters had come in the first speed skating race of the Olympics. She also won in the 5,000 meters.