Joey Mantia skates during the Men's Mass Start Semifinals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 19, 2022 in Beijing, China.
BEIJING — Two-thousandths of a second isn’t much, maybe representing the very tip of a skate blade at the finish line, but it was enough to make Joey Mantia just miss the medal stand Saturday in the men’s mass start at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
Mantia and Mia Manganello Kilburg were the top U.S. performers in the final event of the speedskating competition from Beijing with their fourth-place finishes. But neither skater was satisfied with just coming close. Mantia could only try and make sense of it afterward.
“I felt like I put myself in a perfect position to medal,” Mantia said. “I skated the best race I could, and it’s the mass start. You never know.”
Mantia has in the past described mass start as “NASCAR on ice,” more in line with the chaotic pack racing of short track than the time trials of long track. That can lead to mad dashes for the finish line like Saturday, when Mantia was side-by-side with South Korea’s Seung Hoon Lee in the final stretch. Both skaters reached out their skates at the line, and Mantia said he also felt Lee’s arm reach out as both men jockeyed for position.
“I was pretty confident I had a bronze medal there,” said Mantia, a three-time mass start world champion. “And then, hand on arm, and I looked down, I could see his blade a little bit in front of mine. But coming up on him I thought my blade was in front of his and then he put his back in front of mine. So, I don’t know if there was contact pulling back, it felt like a little bit, maybe not on purpose but I think it happens.”
Mantia said his coaches sought a protest on the matter, but that long track does not have a formal system for review like in short track where contact is the norm and not the exception. It has been an up-and-down Games for Mantia, a three-time Olympian. Earlier in the Games he won a bronze in team pursuit for his first Olympic medal, but placed sixth in the 1,500-meter, one of his strongest events alongside mass start. Mantia had to miss Friday’s 1,000 due to back tightness, and said it was still affecting him Saturday and he’s had trouble feeling comfortable on the ice throughout the Games.
“It’s frustrating because I’ve done everything I could possibly do this season to train, to get to this point, to medal, and the body just is saying we’re not going to give you quite everything you need,” Mantia said.