VANCOUVER, British Columbia — There are few sure things in short-track speedskating, and even fewer when the usual chaos is complicated further by 16 bodies on-ice and depending on precise chemistry and timing. No part of that favors certainty.
But entering the women's 3,000-meter speedskating relay on Wednesday, the U.S.'s Katherine Reutter was as sure as anyone could be for the third-ranked unit in the world.
"We're ready," she said before the race. "We've been assessing for four or five months now, and I think we've done all the work we can do. It's going to pay off."
It did, just not in the way they envisioned.
South Korea had been the metronomic constant in the race, a four-time Olympic champion seeking an unprecedented fifth straight gold in Wednesday's race — and it had one until a disqualification for impeding wiped out their effort.
Indeed, once the disqualification was announced, China took the gold. The U.S. team, huddling by the wall while the other units circled the ice with flags aloft, pushed off to celebrate a bronze medal for a race that, in reality, it was never close in.
The U.S. was behind from the start, a half-lap behind with 16 to go, effectively eliminating any chance it had for challenging. It was a striking disappointment for a team that believed, as Reutter voiced beforehand, that it had a chance to earn hardware at Pacific Coliseum.
Meanwhile, in the men's 500-meter preliminaries Wednesday, U.S. skaters Apolo Anton Ohno and Simon Cho advanced to Friday's quarterfinals while Jordan Malone crashed out of his heat just before the finish.
Ohno, who will seek at least an eighth medal in either the 500-meter race or the 5,000-meter relay on Friday, snuck in front of Canada's Olivier Jean to win his prelim and get an inside lane position as he moves forward.
"I'd like to think I have more (speed than four years ago)," Ohno said. "I'm going to need more if I'm going to make the final."
In women's 1,000-meter preliminaries, only two of three U.S. skaters advanced to Friday's quarterfinals. But the one who did — Reutter — moved on in record fashion, setting a new Olympic standard by finishing her heat in 1:30.508.
"Yeah, and this one held up for a little bit, too," she said. "You get drug tested after an Olympic record, and last time I was in the test and I was like, really? I only had (the record) for three minutes. Did it really even count? Today, I hope it holds up and I don't mind being drug tested."
Her teammates weren't as fortunate. Allison Baver was disqualified after a second-place finish in her heat, and Kimberly Derrick finished third in her heat. Thus neither advanced.
"It's a pretty huge bummer," Reutter said. "I'm really sorry to hear that, because I think we have one of the deepest teams the U.S. has ever had."