Andrew Heo, Kristen Santos and Ryan Pivirotto react during the Mixed Team Relay Semifinals at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 5, 2022 in Beijing, China.
BEIJING — Things are moving fast in the world of short track speed skating. One moment the US mixed relay team thought it had qualified for the first-ever Olympic final of that event, and the next the Americans were eliminated by an official assessment of the medal.
Blocking by an infield skater was the decision that ended the night early for Maame Biney, Andrew Heo, Ryan Pivirotto, Kristen Santos and Corinne Stoddard at the Capital Indoor Stadium. It was a disappointing end to what had been a somewhat surprising run for an American team ranked number 11 in the world. Team USA has only won one World Cup medal in the mixed relay, back in the event’s inaugural 2018-19 season with a team that included Biney and Santos.
The US battled its way out of a quarter-final with medal contenders Hungary and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), finishing third and taking one of two semi-final spots for the fastest teams in third. With Stoddard filling in for Biney, Team USA then led for much of the semi-finals, eventually crossing the line behind Hungary but ahead of China to make temporary progress and a 75 percent chance of a medal.
The ROC was also awarded a penalty and neither team entered Final B. In front of a raucous but socially distant home crowd, China took the gold medal in a thrilling photo finish over Italy, with Hungary in third.
While the result was a disappointment for the US, the mixed team debut looked like a bull’s eye. With the same chaotic energy as all short track relays with skaters weaving in and out, mixed relay adds an extra element of skaters of vastly different body weights giving each other a boost. It’s also a challenge for skaters to keep track of when they switch as they each run two lightning shifts, 2.5 times around the first time and twice the second time. That’s 18 laps for a total of 2,000 meters.
“I think (mixed relay) is cool,” Julia Letai, who didn’t race on Saturday but is a relay specialist, told TeamUSA.org in January. “It’s cool just because of the variety, but also because of its symbolism, the cooperation between the sexes. And I think it also insinuates sort of a more equal platform and that we can all work together no matter what.”
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For two of the American skaters, the Olympic ice was simply a win regardless of final placing. A cut from a speed skating blade just before the Olympic Trials kept Santos off the 2018 Olympic team, and she spent the following years becoming one of Team USA’s top short track speed skaters. Pivirotto did travel to PyeongChang four years ago, but his only involvement came from supporting his teammates in the stands. Pivirotto was a substitute on the relay and 1,000 meters teams.
The evening didn’t end the way the American skaters wanted, but the earlier sessions were very successful for four of them. Santos won her heat in the women’s 500 meters and advanced to the quarterfinals on Monday in a time of 43.579 seconds. Biney, the only returning Olympian on this year’s short track team, also advanced after setting one of the fastest times in third place with a 42.919.
Heo and Pivirotto also continued each in the men’s 1,000 meters. Heo finished second in his heat in 1:24.106. Pivirotto also finished second in 1:54.437 and advanced thanks to a penalty on the Belgian Stijn Desmet. The quarterfinals of the men’s 1000 will also take place on Monday. Team USA did not qualify for a men’s relay team, so the 1,000 will mark the end of the action for Heo and Pivirotto.
Biney and Santos will also participate in the women’s 3000 relay in addition to the 500. Stoddard will join them, who failed to make her 500m heat on Saturday. Eunice Lee and Letai, for whom the 3,000 will be their only Olympic event, round out the team of 3,000.