Speed skating-Fontana aiming for cloud nine in short track

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Jan 25 (Reuters) - South Korea and China have won more than half of the Olympic titles in short track speed skating, which is dominated by Asian athletes, but the greatest skater might be Italy's Arianna Fontana.

The 31-year-old made her Olympic debut at her home Games in Turin in 2006 and since then the 'Angelo Biondo' (Blonde Angel) has won eight medals around the 111.12-metre rink.

It is more than any other female skater on the short track and as many as the sport's legends Apolo Ohno of the United States and Russian Viktor Ahn.

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In Beijing, where the local favourites will rely on Wu Dajing to retain his Olympic title in the 500 metres, the discipline, with its numerous crashes in high-octane races, remains highly unpredictable.

It makes Fontana's record all the more impressive, especially since she only has one world championship gold medal to her name.

"I was convinced Sochi would be my last Games, and yet here I am. Years ago, I would never have imagined I’d go as far as I have and still be in the condition I am in today," the Bormio-based Fontana said.

"It’s an incentive, as even though the years are passing I feel better and better. We’ll see what happens in Beijing, but the goal remains the same: reach the final ... reach all the finals. Once we’re there, everything is on the table."

However, Fontana, who at 15 was Italy's youngest Winter Games medallist, faces tough competition from Dutch sensation Suzanne Schulting.

The 23-year-old, who comes from a country that usually shines on the long track, took gold in the 1,000m in Pyeongchang four years ago and won all the events at last year's world championships, although several top nations did not attend or boycotted because of COVID-19.

Among their main competitors, South Korea have been hit by two off-ice scandals.

Shim Suk-hee was suspended for two months over remarks about coaches and team mates and therefore misses out on the Games after losing her bid for an injunction against the ban.

Lim Hyo-jun was banned from the South Korea team amid an alleged sexual harassment scandal for which he was cleared.

He then applied for Chinese citizenship in a bid to compete at the Olympics but is not eligible to represent the hosts when competition starts on Feb. 5 at the Capital Indoor Stadium.

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Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris

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