Nao Kodaira of Japan sets a new Olympic record in women’s 500m speed skating on Sunday – and went on to win gold. © ReutersOlympic Games News
Date : 19 Feb 2018
Gangneung, Korea, February 18, 2018: The speed skating showdown between Korea and Japan more than lived up to its billing on an emotional night at Gangneung Oval on Sunday. The night ended with Japan’s Nao Kodaira crowned new Olympic champion in the women’s 500m, denying a Winter Games hat-trick for local hero and silver medallist Lee Sang-hwa after her victories at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.
With 16 pairs on the start list, the tension and expectations grew towards Pairing 14, featuring the 31-year-old Kodaira, who had already won a silver medal at PyeongChang 2018 in the 1,000m. Kodaira, in scintillating form on the World Cup circuit this season, played her part by racing round the oval in a new Olympic record time of 36.94 seconds – beating the previous mark of 37.28 held by Lee.
Lee was next to skate in Pair 15, and chants of “Lee Sang-hwa” rang around the arena as the Korean fans attempted to roar her on to an Olympic hat-trick in the speed skating sprint. As hard as they tried, they could not quite give her that extra boost of speed, and Lee’s time of 37.33 seconds was +0.39 seconds outside Kodaira’s time and the Korean hero’s golden run was over.
With the last pair still to skate, Kodaira was in no mood to celebrate just yet – but when the two skaters posted slower times and the result was official, the Japanese ace could finally call herself an Olympic champion.
In extraordinary scenes, Lee cried her eyes out at the adulation sweeping down from the stands as she skated a lap of honour holding the Korean flag. Kodaira, who had Japan’s distinctive Hinomaru draped over her shoulders, stopped her celebrations on the home straight, turned to face Lee and waited for the Korean to skate into her arms for an emotional hug.
The Japanese and Korean skaters then continued their lap of honour together, chatting and acknowledging the fans waving Korean and Japanese flags side by side all around the oval. It was a fitting tribute to Lee, the 28-year-old PyeongChang 2018 Games Ambassador competing in her fourth Winter Olympics, and Kodaira, the new champion at 31 years old who was winning her first gold medal following silver medals here in the 1,000m and in the team pursuit in 2010.
Kodaira said: “I was captain of the whole delegation of Japan this time and I know a lot of attention comes from the Japanese people. I knew that. All I have to do is skate as I am supposed to do.” When asked about holding up the flag with runner-up Lee, Kodaira replied: “Sport can make the world one together, it’s simple.”
Kodaira said all her experiences living and training in the Netherlands since 2014 had paid dividends here. “The reason I went to Holland was not to learn to skate, not technique, but to learn sporting culture. That was more important to me.” Lee added: “I don’t care about silver or bronze or gold because I already have two gold medals from the Olympic Games. But it’s here in Korea so it was really exciting to hear so many Koreans cheering for us.”
Karolina Erbanova of the Czech Republic took the bronze medal in 37.34.
MEN’S TEAM PURSUIT
The evening kicked off with the quarter-finals of the men’s team pursuit, with the fastest four of eight three-man teams advancing to the semi-finals.
Korea, led by the speed skating great Lee Seung-hoon, qualified in first place with a time of 3:39.29, and were joined in the last four by Netherlands (3:40.03), Norway (3:40.09) and New Zealand (3:41.18).
Japan (3:41.62), Italy (3:41.64), Canada (3:41.73) and the United States (3:42.98) were eliminated from medal contention and will compete in classification races for positions 5-8.
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