Updated: Thursday, 13 February 2014 23:12 | By Agence France-Presse

China's Li avoids pile-up to win women's 500m short track

China's Li Jianrou steered clear of a three-skater pile-up to sprint to gold in the women's 500m short track at the Winter Olympics on Thursday.

China's Li avoids pile-up to win women's 500m short track

China's Li Jianrou competes in the Women's Short Track 500 m Final at the Iceberg Skating Palace on February 13, 2014 - by Andrej Isakovic

Two-time defending champion Wang Meng missed the Games after breaking her ankle but Li ensured the title stayed in Chinese hands for a fourth straight Olympics after her three rivals crashed on the first lap of the 4.5-lap final.

The 27-year-old coasted home in 45.263sec to finish nearly six seconds ahead of Italy's Arianna Fontana, the bronze medallist from Vancouver in 2010, who took silver in 51.250.

Despite an initial false start Park Seung-Hi of South Korea took bronze in 54.207. It was the third Olympic bronze for Park, 21, after medals in the 1000m and 1500m in Vancouver.

"I believe it's a miracle," said five-time world champion Li, who is competing at her first Olympics. "I always believe in myself. I'm lucky to get this gold medal."

Officials ruled that Britain's Elise Christie caused the crash, and she was disqualified minutes after the race. China's Liu Qiuhong was fourth.

Pre-race favourite Fan Kexin, a two-time world champion over the distance, failed to qualify for the final, along with Canada's Marianne St-Gelais, the 2010 runner-up.

There were two big shocks earlier in the men's 5,000m relay semi-finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace as neither defending champions Canada nor 2010 silver medallists South Korea qualified for the February 21 final.

With just five laps remaining, America's Eduardo Alvarez and South Korea's Lee Ho-Suk crashed, with Dutch and Kazakh skaters narrowly avoiding the carnage.

The Dutch held on to cross first, followed by Kazakhstan, with South Korea recovering to finish third ahead of the United States.

Referees later advanced the United States to the A final at the expense of Korea.

In the second semi-final, China lead for most of the race until a deft passing move by Viktor Ahn on the final lap gave Russia victory.

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