China's Li wins 500-meter short track gold

Sochi, Russia ( - Li Jianrou stayed ahead of a crash that took out the other three skaters Thursday in the 500-meter short track final and won China's first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.

Li finished in 45.263 seconds -- almost six seconds ahead of silver medalist Arianna Fontana, who was awarded the silver after Great Britain's Elise Christie was penalized for taking out another skater.

Fontana improved on her bronze medal from 2010.

Christie clipped Fontana on the first lap, sending her skidding off, and bronze medalist Park Seung-Hi of South Korea also went into the wall.

Canada's Marianne St-Gelais was eliminated in the semifinals and finished last in the B final. The 2010 silver medalist finished about a half-second too slow in her semifinal race to miss the chance to skate for a medal.

China's Fan Kexin had the top qualifying time earlier Thursday but slipped in her semifinal heat and crashed into the wall.

American Emily Scott and Canadians Jessica Hewitt and Valerie Maltais all failed to reach the semifinals.

China's Meng Wang, who won the last two Olympic gold medals, was injured last month and could not compete in Sochi. She holds the world and Olympic records.

Canada, which had medaled in the men's 5,000-meter relay in four straight Olympics -- winning three golds -- did not qualify for the final in Sochi after Francois Hamelin, brother of 1,500 winner Charles Hamelin, fell.

American Eduardo Alvarez also crashed, but the U.S. team of Alvarez, J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone were moved into the final anyway because the collision was caused by a Korean skater.

Russia, led by Korean-born Viktor Ahn, also made the Feb. 21 final. As did China, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan.

Canada's Charle Cournoyer had the fastest time in qualifying heats for the men's 1,000 meters. Charles Hamelin and fellow Canadian teammate Olivier Jean also advanced.

Celski, Creveling and Alvarez moved on.

South Korea has won the last two Olympic gold medals in the event. It will be represented in the next round by Sin Da Woon and Lee Han-Bin, while Ahn made it for Russia.

The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will all be held Saturday.

Retired American star Apolo Anton Ohno medaled in the event in each of the last three Olympics.