LILLEHAMMER / ’94 WINTER OLYMPICS : Turner Gets Gold, but Not Handshake


As if ice skating needed more mayhem, America’s Cathy Turner was mortified after winning the women’s 500 meters in Olympic short-track speedskating Thursday night when the silver medalist from China refused to shake her hand while Chinese team leaders formally protested that Turner should give back the gold medal.

Also called “the dirtiest skater in skating” by a Canadian opponent after a preliminary race, Turner, 31, of Rochester, N.Y., was accused of fouling world record-holder Yanmei Zhang in the final. An unsmiling Zhang refused to acknowledge Turner on the victory stand, removed her silver medal as soon as she stepped down and dropped her floral bouquet on the floor.

Asked later if Turner was a dirty skater, Zhang, 21, listened to a translator’s interpretation of the question.


“Yes! Yes!” she said in English.

The translator said: “She absolutely agrees.”

At that, Xiu Cheng Li, the Chinese team leader, made a long speech in which he claimed that after complaining to officials, then paying a fee to file a formal protest to have Turner’s victory overturned, he was repeatedly ignored. Xiu said: “We are very, very upset. The American skater very obviously pushed our skater. She, Cathy Turner, should not be given the gold medal, and we strongly require a fair judgment.”

Turner was shaken at first, then defiant.

“They’re not taking my medal away,” she declared.

Nobody will. A Lillehammer Olympic official interrupted Turner at that point to say: “We have asked the referees for a statement and they have said there is no statement to be made. Ms. Turner’s victory stands.”

With that, Turner thrust up both fists.

Her triumph, in the Olympic-record time of 45.98 seconds, gave consecutive gold medals to the colorful Turner--she’s a former lounge singer who once wrote a song called “Kinky, Sexy Tomboy”--in this young but already chaotic sport. When short-track skating premiered in 1992, Zhang was disqualified in the first heat, and Turner collided in the next with Sylvie Daigle of Canada, who vilified Turner’s methods afterward.

This time, Turner clicked skates in a preliminary with Canada’s Nathalie Lambert, nearly causing both to wipe out.

Lambert lambasted her, not only calling Turner the dirtiest skater in skating but adding: “I hope she gets what she deserves--something bad.”

Were this a curse, then a three-skater pileup involving Turner in the semifinal appeared to be Lambert’s revenge. Turner and two others went sprawling, and the accident could have been the American’s fault.


Instead, it was Isabelle Charest of Canada who was disqualified. Of the four women in this heat, three, including Turner, were permitted to start over. Turner won the rerun to advance to the final.

There, trailing in the 4 1/2-lap race after three times around, Turner drifted outside like a race car, then dive-bombed toward the inside in what has been called her “kamikaze technique.” She appeared to place a hand against Zhang’s right shin as she passed her into first place.

Zhang skated to all corners of the arena after the race, raising her right leg and pointing to the spot where Turner touched her.

Turner said adamantly: “How could I have reached out and grabbed her when I was in front of her? I went in front of her and put my hand down. Maybe I hit her leg when I put my hand down on the ice, but I don’t see how I could have reached out and grabbed her.”

Lost in the hubbub was a bronze medal for America’s Amy Peterson, who also took a bronze with Turner here a few days ago in a relay event that ended with similar cries of outrage. In that one, China was disqualified from third place when a skater obstructed Nikki Ziegelmeyer, causing a crash. The American women learned 15 minutes after the race that they had been moved up to third place.

Turner doesn’t know how much wilder things can get.

“For a minute there, I was saying, ‘I just want to go home,’ ” she said.

Upon entering her news conference, a happier Turner was intercepted by a team official who warned her about what was being said by the Chinese, who were still in the room. Turner turned around and left.


Through her translator, an angry Zhang was saying: “I think a skater should use two legs, not three legs.”

By the time she and Turner traded places, Turner’s first words were: “I’m a little scared right now.”

Someone asked, “Of what?”

“Well, they’re talking about taking away my medals. Then outside, (she) wouldn’t even shake my hand or anything.

“And then the Canadian men were giving me the dirty looks before the final race, trying to intimidate me.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. Those girls are always elbowing me and everybody else in the gut. I would never do that. And what was I supposed to say to Nathalie (Lambert), ‘OK, Nathalie, you can go on ahead of me?’ I am not about to do that.

“I am not a dirty skater. I won, and I know I won, and I’m glad I won, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s that.”