• Olympics & Paralympics

South Korean ex-rival, friend sheds tears for Kodaira

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Nao Kodaira, right, embraces her South Korean rival Lee Sang-hwa at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February 2018.

SEOUL/BEIJING — South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa, who is a former rival and current friend of Nao Kodaira, could not hold back her tears when watching the Japanese speed skater fail to defend her title in the women’s 500 meters at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Sunday.

Lee, 32, who settled for the silver medal in the event at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, was present at the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing as a commentator for a Korean TV station.

According to the South Korean media, Lee, in tears, commented, “I thought she [Kodaira] would overcome the weight of the crown, but it seems the mental pressure greatly weighed on her.”

Lee said Kodaira told her before the Beijing Games, “I want to win [the gold] at the Olympics again.” So she encouraged Kodaira by sending such messages as “You can do it because you are an eternal champion.”

However, Kodaira, 35, finished 17th in the event. She said after the race that she was frequently encouraged by Lee through email messages, such as that she is skating well and can achieve her goal.

Kodaira said, “It didn’t go well for me, unlike Sang-hwa, who won two consecutive gold medals.”

Lee was aiming for her third Olympic gold when she was dethroned by Kodaira at the Pyeongchang Games. After the race, their rivalry was set aside, and they hugged and praised each other. That scene moved many people at that time.