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The world turns on Turner

Watch out. The beast is coming.

In the cold, gray corridor of the Olympic Ampitheatre, already you could hear the footsteps. The most feared athlete in the Olympics was about to turn the corner, and the fear was rising. After all, the beast could smell fear.

Suddenly, the door swung wide, and the crowd fell silent. Right in front of you, there was...

...Peter Pan?

Cathy Turner walked into the hallway, and you couldn't help but think: "So, this is the person everyone is afraid of? This 5-2, 115-pound Cathy Rigby look-alike? The bully of short track speed skating?"

Sure enough, Turner is the skater who made the Olympics tremble. And so it was that when Turner was disqualified Saturday night in the short track speed skating semifinals of the 1,000 meters, the crowd cheered and whistled and waved every flag that seemed not to be American.

For the first time in an Olympic race, Turner had been stopped cold. She lost the way she had won ... with controversy.

Turner, branded by a competitor as "the dirtiest skater in the Olympics," was disqualified for cross-tracking. In terms of driving to work, that means the referee thought Turner cut off Korean skater Kim So-Hee, who won the bronze, without signaling properly.

Was Turner guilty? Who in heck can tell? These skaters buzz around lap after lap, like roller derby on ice, and spend the entire race trying to cut around each other. Short track skating had a tough week of competition, and at times it seemed as if the judging was made up as it went along.

It seemed that way to Turner, too, who was incensed at her disqualification. Four times before, Turner had raced in the Olympics; four times before, she had medaled (two golds, one silver, one bronze). Now, in her final Olympic race, she had been tossed.

"I don't think I deserved this," she said. "I feel like a victim. I didn't do anything wrong."

For Turner, that has been a constant refrain these Olympics. Turner has been labeled as a bully by the Canadians and the Chinese, charges she has vehemently denied.

Saturday night, however, Turner believed those charges caught up with her.

"I feel strongly that it had something to do with it," she said. "There has been all of this controversy. I felt the judges were just waiting for me. It was like they said, "Okay, let's watch Turner for one little slip.'

"

She isn't the most popular skater in the world. Turner is aggressive, brash and she skates as if everyone should follow her around the track. That bothers some people.

This week, it bothered Canadian skater Natalie Lambert most of all. After Turner won the 500, Lambert called her a dirty skater. "Everyone's afraid of her," Lambert said. "She makes our sport look like roller derby. She's going to get what she deserves. Something bad."

Because of protests by Lambert and Chinese skater Zhang Yanmei, who tossed her silver-medal flowers away in disgust, Turner was painted as a villain.

Zhang apologized for leaving the medal ceremony, but Thursday Turner received an anonymous computer message that read: "How can you look in the mirror and be proud of yourself? On behalf of Canadians, you can go to hell."

Turner says she does not deserve this, and it is true that judges upheld her victory in the 500. "They (the competitors) are making this up because they lost," she said. "It's the worst sportsmanship I've ever seen."

Lambert, silver medalist in the 1,000 in 1:36.97 behind South Korea's Chun Lee-Kyung (1:36.87), seemed to have more anger over Turner than she had joy over her medal.

"I was happy when she was disqualified," Lambert said. "I thought she deserved to be disqualified more than once. This was one of her cleaner races. She made a small infraction. Usually, she makes big infractions."

"Lambert has a reputation for being a bad skater," Turner answered.

In short track skating, where four contestants whip around in a tightly clustered pack, infractions are hard to see unless they are flagrant, a push or a trip.

But even Lambert offered, "Turner was just one incident. There were a lot of them. The referees were very Mickey Mouse."

Turner is one of the more interesting stories of these Games, a woman who has blended a lot of life into her 32 years.

She has been an Olympian, winning the first 500 gold given to a woman in the sport.

She has been a performer, singing and skating with Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades.

She has been a songwriter, penning such classic tunes as Sexy, Kinky Tomboy.

She has been on American Gladiators, and she has sung national anthems at sporting events, and ridden a motorcycle.

Despite it all, last summer Turner decided to give the Olympics another try. So she strapped on her skates, and she sounded the signal for the world to get the heck out of the way.

"She's not a dirty skater, she's an aggressive skater," teammate Andy Gabel said. "She likes to skate in front. She does some things she shouldn't do. She isn't the most popular person with the other girls.

"But she's an Olympian with four medals. Maybe that's why she isn't popular with the other girls."

Saturday, that ended for Turner. She is 32, newly married, and didn't have a lot of fun at these Olympics. She said she slept only two nights of the past five, perhaps because the world was nipping at her heels.

In the end, the world won. The referees found a way to fell the beast.

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