SOCHI, Russia (AP) — On a big day for China at the Sochi Olympics, speedskater Zhang Hong produced the biggest surprise of all with an overpowering early run in the 1,000 meters that none of the favorites came close to beating.
Chinese gold is a novelty in speedskating. It is expected in short track, where Li Jianrou extended her country's dominance in the women's 500 meters with its fourth straight title.
The two golds in three hours from a country that rarely makes an impact at the Winter Games moved China to eighth in the Sochi medal standings.
Li's short track gold helped ignite Zhang's gold medal dash on the big oval.
"We were eating together and we learned about the gold and we were all excited," Zhang said through a translator.
Organizers gave Zhang little chance of taking gold — putting her in the 7th of 18 pairs, a time usually reserved for the also-rans.
With the Adler Arena still far from full, Zhang posted a stunning time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, missing the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games by barely .19 seconds. Witty's time was set at altitude in rarified air.
Zhang then had to sit through an ice resurfacing and nine pairs of more-favored skaters. If she was as nervous, she didn't show it. All she did was keep on smiling, satisfied with her skate regardless of whether she won or lost.
"I did my best," she said. "The final result didn't matter."
Dutch skater Ireen Wust, the 3,000 champion, came closest in the penultimate pair, but still trailed by .67 seconds, more than the winning margin of the last four Olympics combined.
Not bad for a skater who was largely an afterthought in a team with world sprint champion Yu Jing and veteran Wang Beixing.
Yu got injured and withdrew late and Zhang's friend Wang was forced into a supporting role. She was the first teammate to embrace her though.
"It won't be until tomorrow that I realize that I am a champion, that I won the gold," Zhang said.
Prior to these Winter Games, China had claimed six medals on the big oval — three silvers and three bronzes, including Wang's third-place finish in the women's 500 at Vancouver four years ago.
Ji's performance was almost as surprising in the adjacent Iceberg Skating Palace where she was the only skater who didn't fall in the wild short track final.
Ji's teammate, three-time defending champion Wang Meng, missed the Olympics after breaking her ankle last month and Fan Kexin was supposed to come through instead until she fell in the semifinals. Suddenly it was all down to Ji, who remained upright while all other finalists crashed.
"I feel very lucky," Li said through a translator.
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris contributed.