A South Korean short track speed skater has voiced his disappointment over what he claims was biased judging that propelled Team China to win its first gold at the Winter Olympics on Saturday.
China secured the coveted gold in the mixed team relay, a 2,000-meter race in which four skaters cover 18 laps of a track measuring 111.12 meters long.
The team — composed of Ren Ziwei, Zhang Yuting, Fan Kexin, Wu Dajing and Qu Chunyu — clocked two minutes and 37.348 seconds to win the event during its Olympic debut.
Italy bagged silver at 37.364 seconds, while Hungary, which included two players of Chinese descent, took bronze at 40.900 seconds.
After a video review, the judge ruled that the U.S. had committed an infraction when a skater entered the race early and blocked China’s exchange. This led to a disqualification that pushed China to second place.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was also disqualified after a skater got in between two Chinese teammates. The intervention caused the pair to miss their tap, but China was still allowed to advance.
South Korea was eliminated in a separate race. But Kwak said he, among other observers on the sidelines, expected China to be disqualified as well.
“I was watching that race unfold. I figured China, ROC and the U.S. would get penalized,” Kwak told reporters, according to Yonhap News.
The 32-year-old athlete, who is competing in his third and final Olympics, pointed out that he was not alone in his assessment.
“The Dutch skaters who were watching it with me said the same thing. But as the review dragged on, I figured China was going to be allowed to progress. And when the call was finally made, I found it difficult to accept it,” Kwak said, according to Yonhap.
He also questioned whether the results would have stood “if it had been any other country than China in that situation.”
“Looking at the way China won the gold medal, I felt bad that my younger teammates had to watch something like that,” Kwak said. “I thought to myself, ‘Is this really what winning a gold medal is all about?’ Things all just felt very hollow.”
On Tuesday, the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) announced that it will lodge an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the “unfairness” of judging in short track races involving its athletes the day prior.
Hwang Dae-heon and Lee June-seo were disqualified from the men’s 1,000-meter semifinals, which led to China advancing in the finals and winning both gold and silver.
KSOC said it will do its best to ensure that Korean athletes will not be treated “so unfairly” in global events. The committee added that its appeal was motivated in part by public outrage.
“The people back home are extremely upset with such biased officiating,” KSOC said, according to Yonhap News. “We decided that refereeing (in short track here) couldn’t have support from the international sporting community, and we also wanted to shed light on the less-than-transparent relationship between international federations and judges.”