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Coach-Athlete Spat Clouds Opening Day Glory
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Hosts China kicked off the 2007 Asian Winter Games in style by winning three gold medals, two silvers and five bronzes on the opening day, but events were overshadowed by controversy involving Turin 2006 Olympics champion speed skater Wang Meng.

Despite winning bronze in the women's short track 1,500m, Wang threatened to quit the team, saying "the national team is not suitable for me."

In the race, South Korean Jung Eun-ju beat compatriot Jin Sun-yu to the title, with Wang awarded third after another South Korean, Byun Chun-sa, was disqualified for pushing.

After the race, Wang complained that there had been no teamwork at all in the race, which had three South Koreans and three Chinese competing, blaming her coaches for her inability to win.

"I will apply for training back in the local team after the Winter Asiad, since the arrangements of the coach are not suitable for me," she said.

Her complaint was echoed by teammate Zhou Yang, who finished fifth. "I have participated in three big events," said Zhou. "But this time we had to decide ourselves how to race."

However, team officials were quick to dispel any such rumors. "Women's 1,500m is a strong event for South Korea and we arranged tactics before the race carefully," said Liu Xiaonong, deputy secretary general of the Chinese delegation.

"From the very beginning, we did not skate in line with the arrangements since our rivals were much stronger than us. Wang did a great job in the race, it is a shame that she missed the gold. Maybe Wang did not clearly hear the tactics set out by the coach."

As for her plan to return to the local team, Liu revealed she had not formally raised this with the delegation.

The head coach of the Chinese short track speed skating team is Li Yan, former coach of American short track star Apollo Anton Ohno, who began working with the team last May.

This controversy aside, the first day was a strong showing for the hosts.

Wang Fei opened the floodgates in the women's 3,000m speed skating, breaking the Asian record with a time of four minutes 13.08 seconds.

"I was in the sixth pair of the competition and my coach told me to finish the competition at average speed. I followed his advice and won the gold medal." Wang said after the race. "Although the Japanese athletes broke the Asian Winter Games record first, their results weren't that good, so I had the confidence to win."

The 24-year-old skater from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province is hungry for more success. "I'm striving for other gold medals in the women's 1,000m and 1,500m," she said.

Japan's Hiroki Hirako broke the Asian record to pocket the men's 5,000m speed skating title in six minutes and 39.71 seconds, improving the previous Asian mark of 6:41.62, which was set by Kazakhstan's Dmitriy Babenko. Yeo Sang-yeop of South Korea came second in 6:43.34.

Another spectacular victory came from the Chinese men's short track speed skating team.

In the men's 1,500m short track speed skater Sui Baoku surged ahead in the last laps for a surprise gold, upsetting Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-soo from South Korea.

Sui Baoku

"My victory is due to the tactics arranged by my coach before the race," said Sui. "She told me to maintain my power in the earlier half and try to find a way ahead in the latter half of the race."

(China Daily January 30, 2007)

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