In fourth place during the men's short track 500-meter final with a podium appearance on the line, Russia's Victor An exploded for an epic comeback with two laps to go and stole the gold.
The jaw-dropping finish gave An his second gold of the 2014 Winter Games and third overall as his final time of 41.312 was just enough to edge past silver medalist Dajing Wu of China and bronze medalist Charlie Cournoyer of Canada:
Lost in the shuffle was the fact two-time world champion Wenhao Liang crashed out in the early goings of the final and finished fourth.
It was an overall dominant showing from An considering he won both his quarterfinal and semifinal races by wide margins. Wu did the same, while Cournoyer won first in his quarterfinals race but finished behind Wu in the semifinals.
After the massive field was narrowed in the heat session on Feb. 18 to set up the quarterfinals, things really got interesting on Day 14. America's J.R. Celski, easily one of the favorites, hit the ice hard in his round but was advanced anyway after it was ruled his progress was impeded.
Bleacher Report's Dan Levy took a humorous approach to the wild turn of events:
HOWEVER, someone else was DQ’d. Advances RT @DanLevyThinks: J.R. Celski fell in the short track bumper cars 500 m crash derby quarterfinals.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) February 21, 2014
Another top contender was not as fortunate.
Russia's Vladimir Grigorev, who had previously won a silver medal in the men's 1,000-meter event, fell on the very next run in the quarterfinals and was eliminated, as illustrated by Willie Cornblatt of NBC:
Vladimir Grigorev gets eliminated after a nasty spill in the 500m, he was a big medal contender #shorttrack— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 21, 2014
Remember, Canada's Charles Hamelin—the 1,500-meter gold medalist from earlier in the Games—did not even participate after crashing out in Tuesday's heats, which proved to be a strong foreshadowing for most top contenders.
Things then transitioned to the semifinals, where the four runs effectively weeded out the weak links. One happened to be Celski, who started in fourth and finished in the same position after a disappointing total time of 41.152, which hardly qualified him for the secondary final.
Celski would go on to finish in second place in Final B, good for sixth place overall just behind China's Tianyu Han. For Celski, it is a disappointing end to the Games overall that saw him fail to reach a podium under the weight of lofty expectations—especially considering he holds the world record in the 500-meter race. He had reflected on his desire to medal after the 1,000 meters, where he crashed out in the quarterfinals, via Madison.com:
“I really wanted it,” he said after practice Monday. “I kind of saw four years go down the drain for the 1,000.”
Outside of Celski, plenty of future contenders were on display. Han figures to be in the podium conversation for quite some time, as do the other podium finishers who were able to capitalize on mistakes by favorites.
All that remains in Sochi for the short track discipline is the men's 5,000-meter team relay, where the dominant An has a chance to make history, as Nick Zaccardi of NBC points out:
If Viktor Ahn medals in relay, he will have won a medal in all four short track events for a second time. Nobody else has done it once.— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) February 21, 2014
Regardless, An's miracle comeback is a moment that will not soon be forgotten, especially in the face of a competition that perfectly captured just how bright the future of the sport truly is.