Wednesday was a day of both history and disappointment for North Carolinians participating in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The history was provided by Duke graduate student and Apex native Randi Griffin, who playing for the unified North and South Korean team, scored the host country’s first Olympic goal ever while the disappointment came in the form of a second straight eighth place finish by High Point speedskater Heather Richardson Bergsma.
Griffin was one of several North American hockey players of Korean descent recruited to add talent and experience to a fledgling team making its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang. After suffering back-to-back 8-0 losses to begin the tournament, the Koreans were eliminated Wednesday with a 4-1 loss to Japan.
But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm or lessen the accomplishment when Griffin found the back of the net midway through the second period.
Taking a pass from teammate Park Yooniung on right wing, the former Harvard player fought off a defender and slid the puck between the pads of Japanese goalie Akane Konishi, setting off a joyous celebration both on the ice and in the stands — where the home fans had been waiting all week for something to cheer about.
The mood was much less upbeat at the Olympic speedskating oval, where Bergsma’s frustrations continued in the women’s 1,000 meters.
The former inline skater, who is married to Dutch gold medalist Jorrit Bergsma and now trains in the Netherlands, was considered a medal favorite after winning both the 1,000 and 1,500 at the 2017 World Championships in Pyeongchang and going undefeated in the 1,000 during the 2016-17 season.
But two days after faltering in the final lap and finishing eighth in the longer event, Bergsma finished eighth again in the 1,000. Her time of 1:15.15 was a second-and-a-half slower than gold medal winner Jorien Ter Mors of the Netherlands. Japan’s Nao Kodaira and Miho Takagi won silver and bronze, respectively.
Brittany Bowe was the top-finishing American, barely missing out on the medals in fourth.
As was the case in the 1,500, Bergsma raced in the final pairing of the event and started strong with a 27.17 opening split. But she faded in her final lap again, skating it in 30.09 to take her out of medal consideration.
“It’s always difficult going last,” Bergsma told TeamUSA.org. “There were tough times before me but mentally I was prepared for that. So, I went out and I went for it. My start was good,” Bergsma said. “I was happy with it. Just the last lap wasn’t there.”
This is Bergsma’s third Olympic appearance. Her best previous individual finish was sixth in the 500 meters at the Vancouver Games in 2010. Although she is scheduled to race again in the 500 on Sunday and in the newly added mass start race on Feb. 24, she isn’t optimistic about her medal chances
“This was definitely my best shot,” she said of the 1,000, adding that the 500 is “going to be difficult.”
Also Wednesday, former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, currently a resident of Wilmington, picked up an assist for the US men’s hockey team on a second period goal by teammate Jordan Greenway during its Olympic opener against Slovenia. The US lost the game 3-2 in overtime.