By Raf Casert
The Associated Press
SOCHI, Russia — You have favorites for Olympic gold — and then you have Lee Sang-hwa. The defending Olympic champion has been so overwhelming the past two years it is tough to see anyone beating the South Korean during Tuesday’s 500-meter races.
Lee could be feeling an even stronger desire to win after South Korea team mate and defending champion Mo Tae-bum could only finish fourth in the men’s 500.
The competition for the other medals looks wide open.
Here are five things to watch for in the women’s 500 meters at the Adler Arena:
Overpowering: Look at the statistics and the gold medal is all but a foregone conclusion. Lee won her first Olympic title at 20 in Vancouver. She has won the last two world 500 titles, and broke the world record three times this season. She is unbeaten in the World Cup this season, with a perfect seven-for-seven. “There is just one way to beat Lee, and that is if she makes mistakes on the ice,” said Dutch sprinter Margot Boer.
Missing Yu: When Lee skipped the sprint world championships, everyone was hoping a credible challenger would emerge from the competition. No luck. Yu Jing of China took the title but injury forced her out of the Sochi Games.
Who else? Olga Fatkulina is seeking to put the host nation on the medal stand again after Olga Graf unexpectedly won a bronze in the 3,000. Fatkulina won the only World Cup race this season that Lee did not enter. Also look for Heather Richardson from the United States. If she squeezes onto the medal stand, she will be the first American to medal in the event since Bonnie Blair took the last of her three golds in 1994. Also look for Wang Beixing of China to add a second medal to her bronze from Vancouver.
No orange: Perennial medal contenders over just about every distance in speedskating, the Dutch women are strangely subdued when it comes to sprinting, unlike the Dutch men who swept the podium in Monday’s 500. No Dutch woman has ever medaled over the distance and it does not look they will change that in Sochi. Boer is seventh in the World Cup standings and Thijsje Oenema eighth.
Two for the price of one: Unlike any other speedskating event, the 500 is raced over two heats with the combined time determining the Olympic champion. The speed of the skaters is so high that by the time they hit the final turn, having an outside lane is a definite advantage. To make the racing fair, each skater starts once in the inside lane and once in the outside lane.
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