The end of a short-track speed skating race can sometimes be a bit confusing – even for the experts.
That was the case in the women's 3,000-metre relay in Pyeongchang where Canada's athletes and coaches were left scratching their heads at the outcome.
"We don't know what happened," Canadian skater Jamie MacDonald said after Canada went from believing it had a shot at a bronze medal to, moments later, suddenly being disqualified.
"I don't know," shrugged Canadian Kim Boutin.
"I still don't know," added veteran Marianne St-Gelais a half-hour after the race.
They were talking about the wild finish to the relay in which China and Korea crossed the line in a photo-finish after an earlier crash that sent skaters tumbling all over the ice. But as in so many short-track speed skating races, the result was only temporary until the judges reviewed the race video to determine who won if there were any infractions.
And there were.
Canada thought it had the bronze, but when the ruling came, the Canadian and Chinese teams were shocked to be penalized. Meanwhile, Korea was elated to win the gold medal, followed by Italy which was moved into the silver-medal spot. The Netherlands, winners of the B final, were elevated to the bronze medal, leaving them just as shocked as everyone else.
Canadian skaters and officials weren't sure why they had been punted, because officials in short-track no longer have to explain their rulings to the coaches.
But Canadian coach Frederic Blackburn said he reviewed the race tape on his own and he thought — and it was largely a guess, he said — that an unintentional miscue by Boutin led to the foul.
Unlike most short-track penalties, though, Boutin wasn't in the race when it happened. Instead, she was one of athletes circling inside the track. When the race came to a finish, with the Chinese and Korean skaters battling to cross the line first, Boutin inadvertently glided too far to her right, and her skate went into the track, Blackburn said.
"What I saw is at the end, with the Korean and the Chinese when they finished, [Boutin] was close to them with a little bit [of her skate] on the track," he said.
"What I saw was no contact…. but if she's there the Chinese can't do anything. That's why maybe we are penalized."
Though Boutin didn't make contact with the skaters, the rules in short-track say that if a skater does something that could have an impact on the race, it is a violation, Blackburn said. If drifting into the race lane caused the skaters to flinch or adjust, it's a penalty.
That was the best explanation Canada could come up with for its expulsion, which may have cost the team a medal. It is the first time in the history of the women's 3,000-metre relay at the Olympics that Canada did not make the podium in that event.
The outcome left the Canadian women baffled and a little bit frustrated.
"I don't think we deserved that penalty tonight," St-Gelais said. "We were skating so well, the girls were sharp, the girls were there… I'm really disappointed because, honestly, we worked hard for that."
However, there was little the Canadians could do, other than review the video themselves, since there are no appeals in short-track.
"We'll see, but at the end it won't change anything," St-Gelais said.
Asked how short-track athletes cope with a sport in which the races or so often decided on the replay, rather than at the finish line, and fortunes are won and lost by disqualification, St-Gelais said that's what skaters sign up for when they take up the sport.
"I chose short track for the good and the bad sides," she said. "But I still enjoy my sport. I enjoy short-track... Sometimes it goes our way, and sometimes it doesn't. Tonight, it wasn't our turn."
Boutin, who has won two medals in her individual races at these Olympics, said she wasn't sure it was her that caused the foul, but the disqualification left her upset. "I feel pretty disappointed about that," she said.