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Athletes’ eyes on prize as they arrive in S. Korea

Tetsu Joko / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Speed skaters Nao Kodaira, left, and Miho Takagi arrive at Yangyang International Airport in South Korea on Sunday.

By Hiromu Namiki / Japan News Staff WriterPYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Japanese athletes have arrived in South Korea, expressing renewed determination for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

A total of 132 people, including 70 athletes from such sports as speed skating, figure skating, ski jumping and ice hockey, entered the Olympic Villages in Pyeongchang and Gangneung on Sunday.

“The Olympics is a stage that fills athletes with thrills and excitement,” said speed skater and Japan team captain Nao Kodaira after arriving at Yangyang International Airport. “I’m looking forward to savoring such emotions.”

Kodaira is regarded as a gold medal contender, as she has extended her World Cup winning streak, starting last season, to 15 titles in the women’s 500 meters, and set a new world record in the 1,000.

However, she refrained from setting a concrete goal, saying: “I want to concentrate on my skating. If I can do my best, the result doesn’t matter to me.”

In contrast to the 31-year-old veteran — Pyeongchang will be Kodaira’s third Games — up-and-coming athletes set to make their Olympic debut did not hide their big ambitions.

“My goal is to win the gold medal,” said 20-year-old moguls skier Ikuma Horishima, the 2017 world champion who notched his first World Cup win last month. “I want to think about the way to win in the remaining official training sessions.”

“I’ve set my sights on two gold medals,” said snowboarder Miyabi Onitsuka, who will take part in the women’s slopestyle and big air, a discipline newly introduced for Pyeongchang.

“I’m in great condition. I had a 13-day training session before arriving, and I was able to further improve the level of my performance,” said the 19-year-old, who won the world championships in slopestyle in 2015, and finished third in 2017.

Attention on Kodaira

Kodaira is receiving attention in South Korea as the main rival of Lee Sang Hwa, a South Korean speed skating star who has won consecutive Olympic gold medals in the women’s 500-meter race, said a South Korean TV reporter.

“Kodaira is regarded as the chief threat to Lee’s third straight title,” said Kim Ki Beom, a reporter from the Korean Broadcasting System who was at Yangyang International Airport to report on Kodaira.

Lee won her second consecutive Olympic 500 title at the Sochi Games, where Kodaira finished fifth. However, Lee has struggled with injuries in recent years, while Kodaira has shown her dominance this season.

“I think Kodaira is one step ahead [of Lee]. However, Lee is a skater who gives her best performances on the big stage. The competition between the two will be one of the highlights of Pyeongchang,” Kim said.Speech

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