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    Zhang Hong wins China’s first speedskating gold

    Zhang Hong blazed her way to speedskating gold, posting an impressive margin of victory.EPA/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
    Hannibal Hanschke/EPA
    Zhang Hong blazed her way to speedskating gold, posting an impressive margin of victory.

    SOCHI, Russia — Zhang Hong put up an early time no one could beat.

    Not the Dutch, though they are still flying high at the Sochi Olympics.

    Certainly not the Americans, who can’t get up to speed at Adler Arena.

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    While Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe were the latest US heavyweights to flame out, Zhang gave China its first speedskating gold medal ever with a stunning victory in the women’s 1,000 meters Thursday.

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    The winning time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds was nearly seven-10ths faster than anyone else — a huge margin in this event.

    ‘‘I saw the time pop up and was thinking ‘This is amazingly fast,’ ’’ said silver medalist Ireen Wust of the Netherlands. ‘‘I had never done a 1:15 at sea level.’’

    Zhang, who had not done much on the World Cup circuit this season, skated in the seventh of 18 pairs based on her middling results. But her time broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

    Wust took the silver in 1:14.69, while Dutch teammate Margot Boer earned bronze in 1:14.90.

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    Zhang’s winning margin — 0.67 — was the largest in the women’s 1,000 since Bonnie Blair’s runaway victory at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. In fact, it was larger than the last four Olympic races combined.

    Beyond Boer, no one else was within a second of the winning time.

    While the Dutch ran their Sochi speedskating medal haul to 12, just one away from tying the best Olympic performance ever on the big oval, the Americans have yet to win even one.

    Richardson came in ranked No. 1 in the World Cup standings, just ahead of her teammate Bowe, who set a world record in the 1,000 on the high-altitude ice at Salt Lake City just three months ago.

    Richardson was briefly in third place, but the High Point, N.C., knew her time was unlikely to hold up with three pairings left; she wound up seventh in 1:15.23. Bowe, of Ocala, Fla., was went in the next-to-last last group and faded badly over the final lap, winding up eighth in 1.15.47 — nearly 1½ seconds off the winning time.

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    ‘‘I’m at a loss for words right now,’’ US sprint coach Ryan Shimabukro said. ‘‘For whatever reason right now, we are getting skunked.’’