Instead, the fans received a harsh lesson in the unpredictable nature of short-track speed skating.
Ohno didn’t even make the finals of the men’s 500 meters, contested prior to the relay. And while American Rusty Smith became the hero of the early evening after winning a bronze in the 500, he was the goat of the late evening, tripping over a lane marker in the relay to knock the U.S. out of championship contention.
All the Americans needed to win a relay medal was to avoid a last-place finish in the four-team final heat. But last is exactly where the Americans—the reigning world champions in the event—finished.
Smith’s fall knocked the U.S. from second to third place behind the Italians. Shortly thereafter the Chinese, who had fallen earlier in the race, moved up into third. The U.S. finished more than a lap behind first-place Canada and almost a half a lap back of third-place China.
Weinstein—whose throng of supporters held a sign reading “GO DAN! YOU DA’ MAN” from the upper deck—acknowledged that mishaps like Smith’s were simply natural to his sport.
“It’s what happens sometimes,” Weinstein said. “It doesn’t change the fact that I still think we’re still the best relay team in the world. You lose distance, and it’s harder to get your speed back after a fall, but you give it everything you have. We were fried at the end. All of us understand. These things can happen.”
Ron Biondo, the other U.S. relay team member going home medal-less, was less composed than Weinstein. Biondo threw his helmet over the wall in frustration at the end of the race.
Ohno believed he could have anchored the U.S. team to victory had the fall never occurred.
“We were in perfect position,” Ohno said. “There’s no doubt in my mind if we wouldn’t have gone down and I was there in the end, I could have done some magic.”
Smith was quick to apologize to his teammates after the fall.
“It was all completely my fault,” Smith said. “I feel horrible about it.”
Just minutes after the disappointing conclusion to the relay, Smith came back on ice to accept his 500-meter bronze medal. He emerged downcast at first, but his spirits lightened as he received cheers from the minority of fans who stayed for the medal ceremony.
Ohno had been the American media’s pick to win double gold on Saturday, but Canada’s Marc Gagnon ultimately pulled off the feat. To even make the final, Gagnon had to edge out Korean world champion Kim Dong-Sung for second place in their semifinal heat behind Smith.
In the 500 final, Smith led up until the final lap, but he was passed by Gagnon and fellow Canadian Jonathan Guilmette down the stretch.
“I had a great start, but I held the lead for a little too long, I think,” Smith said. “But I’m really happy about the way things turned out.”