Italian skater Arianna Fontana became the all-time leader in Winter Olympic short track medals on Saturday after the mixed team relay.
Italy, the No. 7 team in the 2021-2022 World Cup standings, took the silver in the inaugural Olympic event, and Fontana won her ninth medal. She entered the 2022 Winter Olympics tied with Apolo Ohno of the United States and Viktor Ahn, who skated for South Korea and Russia, with eight.
"I've been around for a long time," Fontana, 31, said in a press conference on Saturday. "I'm happy to be there with them and now ahead of them by one medal. That doesn't mean I'm better than them. They were great when they skated, and that will never change. Just a different era."
Italy nearly finished ahead of China for the gold, as Pietro Sighel reached out his skate at the last moment but fell by 0.016 seconds. Following a few moments of realization and consolation after the tight loss, Fontana and her teammates were all smiles carrying the flag around the oval.
Saturday was a busy day for the Italian, who won her 500m individual heat before racing in the relays. She is the defending gold medalist in the 500m, and that event is her next chance to add to her medal total. The quarterfinal, semifinal and final of the women's 500m take place on Monday.
"It's awesome," Fontana said. "I'm 31, (in) my fifth Olympics, first day of (competition), to have a medal in an event that is new is something incredible."
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She won her first medal as a 15-year-old in 2006. That was the same year Ahn won three gold medals.
He congratulated Fontana after she surpassed his medal count, a moment the Italian will not soon forget.
"He was always a hero and an idol in the sport, so to hear from him 'Congratulations' and 'Good job' is something, I don't know how to describe it," Fontana said.
Fontana will also be racing in the Women's 1000m, 1500m and 3000m relay. She won three medals in 2018, her second straight Olympics doing so. Ahn is the only athlete to ever win four short track medals in one Winter Olympics.
Keeping calm in the mixed team relay final
The mixed team relay competition involved several chaotic moments, and the final was not exempt.
A crash occurred involving Canadian and Hungarian skaters. Italy and China were separated in a head-to-head battle for the finish, and Fontana praised her team's poise.
"With the team, I kind of use my experience to try to keep them focused on what we had to do and not think about the medal and not think about the end result," Fontana said. "We did a pretty good job in the final. We were really focused and even when everything happened, the fall and everything, we were ready to take advantage of that situation."