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Resilient Kodaira rewrites 500 record

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nao Kodaira, right, celebrates her victory in the women’s 500 meters at the World Cup in Calgary on Sunday.

By Mao Ueda / Yomiuri Shimbun SportswriterCALGARY — Japan’s Nao Kodaira bounced back from a fall the previous day in spectacular fashion, winning the 500 meters at a World Cup meet Sunday in 36.53 seconds, cutting 0.22 seconds off her own national record.

The speedster also extended her winning streak at the distance to 13 dating back to last season, while chalking up her 16th World Cup win overall on the final day of the three-day meet in Calgary.

There was also a new Japan record set in the women’s 1,500 meters, with Miho Takagi winning in 1:51.79 to chop a whopping 2.31 seconds off the previous mark set by Misaki Oshigiri two years ago.

Takagi has won all three 1,500 races this season, and increased her overall total of individual World Cup wins to six.

Both Takagi in the 1,500 and Kodaira in the 500 and 1,000 have cleared the Japan Skating Federation’s selection criteria for the Pyeongchang Winter Games. The two need only participate in the qualifying competition to be held later this month to all but assure their tickets to the Olympics.

Japan’s Arisa Go finished third in the 500 in 37.06, while Nana Takagi placed third in the women’s mass start.

In the men’s 1,500, Takuro Oda set a Japan record of 1:43.38 in finishing ninth.

The radiant smile on Kodaira’s face was in sharp contrast to her mood after a spectacular fall in Saturday’s 1,000 meters.

Coming off the curve about 200 meters after the start, Kodaira wiped out at high speed and crashed into the rubber mat surrounding the rink. She complained of a stiff neck on Sunday, but had no thoughts of dropping out of the competition.

“I had a feeling like something was boiling inside me,” Kodaira said.

Kodaira could not help agonizing over what might have been in a race in which she felt she could have broken the world record but instead ended so badly. Disappointed by the crash, Kodaira woke up twice during the night.

However, she was able to control her emotions Sunday, for the very fact that it was after a big accident. Upon reflection, it made her realize her success had allowed her to lack caution.

“At any rate, I thought I need to to just stick with my own race through the goal,” Kodaira said.

She turned in her fastest-ever split for the first 100 meters, but she still managed the first curve from the inside lane. Kodaira skated more carefully over the last curve, which resulted in a new personal best.

Coach Masahiro Yuki praised Kodaira for her ability to bounce back overnight. “I think it was amazing. This is what makes her strong.”

For the peerless 31-year-old Kodaira, it was a test to overcome a challenge that she passed.

“I was able to convert what was boiling inside me into concentration,” she said.

Takagi’s victory capped a weekend filled with success, as she won the 3,000 in national-record time on Friday, and was part of the Japan team that set a world record in winning the team pursuit on Saturday.

She credited her ability to adjust to the surface of the rink.

“If you push yourself too much, you feel it in your legs toward the end,” Takagi said.

She skated without unnecessary force and finished the race without losing velocity.

“[I was able to adjust] because I was tired,” the 23-year old jokingly said.

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