American speed skater loses medal by thousandth of a second

·2 min read

BEIJING — The average blink of an eye takes a tenth of a second. Team USA’s Joey Mantia missed out on an Olympic medal by one one-hundredth of an eyeblink.

Skating in the men’s mass start, the final speedskating event of the 2022 Olympics, Mantia was within sight — within reach — of the finish line. He looked down and noticed his skate just millimeters ahead of Lee Seung Hoon. First one across the line would win a bronze medal, and Mantia thought he was in position.

Then he felt the slightest tap on his right arm — a brush, a bump, call it what you will — and when he glanced down again, Lee’s skate was the one in front. And then the race was over.

“I was pretty confident I had a bronze medal there,” Mantia said after the race. “Coming up on him, I thought my blade was in front of his, and then he put his back in front of mine. I don’t know if there was contact … it felt like maybe a little bit, maybe not on purpose, but it happens.”

Team USA coaches lodged a challenge, but Lee was awarded the bronze regardless.

Mass start is a new event at the Games, dating back only to 2018 and PyeongChang. It’s chaotic, often catastrophic, with constant jockeying for position and frequent race-ending spills.

“Usually in the mass start, there’s, like, no rules,” Mantia said. Officials are "just like, ‘We don’t know how to call the race because there's no real rules on stuff like that.’ Short track has a whole video replay system they can refer to and somebody makes that call. Long track is such a new event that you hope for the best, but usually you don’t get that call.”

Mantia, 36, has struggled with back issues over the past few years, and conceded after the event that he’d been feeling off for most of his time at the Olympics, including the qualifying event for the mass start final.

“It’s frustrating, because I’ve done everything I could possibly do this season,” said Mantia, who did win bronze in the team pursuit. “All my training was going toward a medal, and the body is saying, ‘I’m not going to give you quite everything you need.’"