Canadian medal favourite Ivanie Blondin crashes in women's mass start semifinal
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GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Ivanie Blondin's Winter Games ended with a thud in her favourite race.
The Canadian long-track speedskater crashed in the semifinal of Saturday's mass start — which made its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang — wiping out two competitors in the process to wrap up her time in South Korea without a medal from four events.
"I'm distraught right now. It's disappointing," Blondin said. "Not being on the podium is disappointing.
"But it's not going to stop me in the future."
Blondin appeared to touch the outside of the track when leaning into a turn near the race's midway point at Gangneung Oval before her left leg buckled. That caused the 27-year-old from Ottawa to fall into the path of Japan's Ayano Sato and Annouk van der Weijden of the Netherlands in the tightly packed lead group.
A Canadian team official said initially Blondin was too upset to answer questions about the crash, but she eventually relented and briefly spoke with reporters.
"I had a little bit of a slip around the apex in that turn," Blondin said. "And the Japanese that was behind me kind of just tossed me out of the way. And I ended up falling because I just lost balance. That happens, right? You see it in short-track all the time. We see it in long-track, too, in the mass start.
"I was obviously tight. But I didn't think I stepped inside the track whatsoever. But I might have. I have no idea."
Van der Weijden recovered to finish second in the heat and qualify for the final, but Sato didn't finish her 16 laps and wound up 12th — two spots back of Blondin.
Eight skaters in each 12-woman semi advanced.
"I am really, really disappointed," Sato said. "I was not upset with (Blondin) at all.
"Had I made an adjustment a bit earlier I (would) not have fallen with her."
Japan's Nana Takagi won gold in the women's race, followed by South Korea's Kim Bo-Reum and Irene Schouten of the Netherlands. Keri Morrison of Burlington, Ont., was 12th.
"I stuck to my race plan," Morrison said. "It didn't work out that I was with the final pack at the end, but I raced to the final as if that pack I was with was the medallists, so I'm really proud of my results."
South Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon won the men's title, followed by Germany's Bart Swings and Koen Verweij of the Netherlands.
Olivier Jean, a 2010 Olympic gold medallist in the 5,000 metre short-track team relay, of Lachenaie, Que., was 14th after winning bronze in mass start at last season's world single distance championships.
Blondin, who trained in short-track when she was a teen, won world silver in mass start at the 2015 worlds before taking gold in 2016. She also took the overall women's World Cup title in 2014-15, was second in 2015-16 and third in 2016-17.
Thought to be a strong medal contender heading into Pyeongchang, Blondin was fifth in the traditional women's 5,000 metres — a race where she was unable to calm her nerves — before finishing sixth in the 3,000.
Blondin and Morrison also wound up just off the podium in the team pursuit with a fourth-place showing.
Canada ends the Pyeongchang Games with two medals in long-track, both from Calgary's Ted-Jan Bloeman, who won gold in the men's 10,000 and silver in the 5,000.
"The fact is, I think a lot of people don't see my results as being positive, which is really unfortunate," Blondin said. "Finishing sixth, fifth and fourth, I think is a great accomplishment from where I've come.
"It's not a medal, but it's something to be proud of. That's what people don't see."
Described by some as "NASCAR on ice," mass start is an elbows-up affair that sees skaters start in unison before jockeying and jostling for position over 16 laps, similar to short-track and very different from long-track, where athletes race against the clock in pairs.
The first three competitors to cross the finish line in mass start wind up first, second and third, but races also include intermediate sprints after four, eight and 12 laps, and a final sprint.
Sprint points can impact where skaters off the podium wind up, pushing an athlete up or down the standings.
Blondin had secured one point before her fall, but it wasn't enough to carry her into the final.
"That was super unfortunate for her," Morrison said. "She's a strong competitor and she doesn't stay down long.
"It's disappointing, but that's part of the ups and downs of mass start."
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