SOCHI, Russia — The U.S. men's short-track relay team suffered through an agonizing wait before being handed a place in the final after a spectacular crash that threatened to end their medal hopes.
The Americans placed fourth in the 5000-meter team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Thursday after being forced to the back of the field when Eddy Alvarez crashed to the ice as a result of a collision with South Korean skater Lee Ho-Suk.
With only two teams guaranteed to advance, the U.S. endured some nervous moments while race officials analyzed the collision afterward. They eventually ruled the Korean was at fault, allowing the American team of J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling, Jordan Malone and Alvarez to move on.
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The foursome will now square off with regular qualifiers the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Russia and China in Saturday's final.
"It was the longest two minutes of our lives waiting for that call," Malone said. "It is a discretionary thing, and it is up to the ref and how he thinks he saw it. We just had to sit there and cross our fingers and hope they would make the right decision.
"If the decision goes the wrong way it is complete heartbreak. That is one thing you don't always know if the referees realize they have your fate in their hands. Luckily, this went our way so we have another chance."
With four laps remaining, Lee's arm made contact with Alvarez, who was advancing rapidly after a powerful turn and was unable to stop the impact from taking him down.
Alvarez and Lee scrambled to their feet, but by then they were well adrift of the Netherlands and Kazakhstan, which seized upon the carnage to book a surprise place in the final.
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Lee "held his hand out there and didn't allow my hand to come through, so I went down," Alvarez said. "He slipped on his right skate and sat real deep on his left. I was going for the pass and coming with more speed, so I am glad the refs caught that. Sometimes those calls go against you."
Canada, led by three-time gold medalist Charles Hamelin, also crashed out in the second semifinal, leaving Russia and China to advance. For the U.S., the chance to shoot for a medal in a final devoid of South Korea and Canada, the two big favorites before the competition, is a tantalizing prospect.
"Now we have got to skate to our potential in the final," Alvarez said. "Now we have just got to let the tiger out of its cage."
Celski and Malone were part of the U.S.' bronze-medal-winning relay team at the 2010 Winter Games, where Hamelin spearheaded Canada to gold and South Korea took silver.
Celski, Creveling and Alvarez all advanced through the first heat stage of the men's 1000 meters earlier in Thursday's session.
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