By Sonia Oxley
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Joy turned to despair for South Korea on Wednesday when their victory lap was cut short by news of their disqualification gifting China the Olympic gold in the women's short track 3,000 meters relay.
Cheers turned to tears as the inconsolable South Koreans rushed past reporters without stopping to explain their mistake and livid coach Choi Kwang-bok hammered his fists on a padded barrier in frustration and shouted at the referee.
He was angry that it was the same Australian official in charge, James Hewish, who had triggered outrage in South Korea when he disqualified Kim Dong-sung in the 1,500 final at the 2002 Games after he had crossed the line first.
"It was out of my control when the judges made their decision. The main referee is from Australia and he misjudged it when Kim Dong-sung was skating and disqualified. It was the same referee," Choi told reporters.
Disqualifications are common in the sport, where skaters jostle for position while turning tight corners. Relays are chaotic affairs with 16 skaters on the ice in one go.
"I was not surprised by the disqualification because collisions happen all the time in short track," Wang Meng, who cost China a medal in Turin four years ago when she was judged to have impeded, told reporters.
China stood on top of the podium with Zhang Hui sporting a big white plaster over a cut on her chin.
"It was an accident. We were celebrating, she was accidentally cut in the face by a blade," Wang said of her team mate, who had blood pouring from her face after the incident.
China have dominated the women's events in Vancouver, winning three out of three with individual golds for Wang in the 500 meters and Zhou Yang in the 1,500 meters.
China's first Olympic relay gold came in a world record time of four minutes 6.610 seconds thanks to a team featuring Sun Linlin, Wang, Zhang and Zhou.
With six laps remaining, Korea were trailing China and during an exchange thought they could overtake but Kim cut across Sun's path while trying to make the pass.
"She couldn't get through so I guess that's how the collision happened," said Sun. "The referee's decision is fair."
(additional reporting by Pritha Sarkar; editing by Miles Evans)