Takagi earns surprise silver in 500 meters; Kodaira finishes 17th

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Miho Takagi holds a Japanese flag during a flower ceremony at the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing on Sunday.

BEIJING — Speed skater Miho Takagi collected her second silver medal at the Beijing Games on Sunday, finishing second in the women’s 500 meters with a new personal best of 37.12 seconds at the National Speed Skating Oval.

Nao Kodaira, 35, was unable to repeat her victory at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, finishing 17th with a time of 38.09.

This is the fifth Winter medal for Takagi, the captain of the Japan delegation at the Beijing Games, extending her record for the most Winter Olympics medals earned by a Japanese athlete.

When Summer medals are included, Takagi is tied with Ryoko Tani for the most medals held by any female Japanese Olympian. Tani had two golds, two silvers and one bronze in judo.

Erin Jackson of the United States captured the gold on Sunday, clocking 37.04. Arisa Go, the flagbearer for Japan at the opening ceremony, finished 15th at 37.98.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Miho Takagi competes in the women’s 500 meters at the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing on Sunday.

Takagi pumped her right arm high in the air after checking her time.

“I’ve been struggling at this Olympics, so I’m very happy to have skated such a gratifying race,” Takagi said after improving her best 500-meter time by 0.1 seconds. “Honestly, I’m so surprised.”

Takagi’s joy was in sharp contrast to her feelings after the 1,500 meters, when she did not hide her disappointment despite getting the silver medal.

The 500 is not one of Takagi’s main events, and she doesn’t have a strong track record in it, so she raced in the fourth out of 15 pairs of skaters. However, no one was able to beat her time until Jackson, who skated in the 14th pair. Takagi skated the fifth-best time over the first 100 meters, but was tied with Jackson over the remaining 400, to secure the silver.

Takagi excels at the 1,500 meters, in which she won her second consecutive silver in Beijing, and in the 1,000 meters, in which she grabbed a bronze in Pyeongchang. She has competed in three Olympic Games, but this was the first time she had raced in the 500 meters.

Takagi benefited from her experience during a World Cup race in December, at which she raced in the second tier Division B. She started in the outside lane and slowed down when she had trouble switching to the inside on the final curve.

“This time, I was able to maintain my speed,” Takagi said, turning her December mistake into success.

Takagi debated until the last moment whether to compete in the 500 meters in Beijing, because participating would give her a packed racing schedule. She’s determined to be an all-round skater, however, and ultimately stuck to her plan to enter all of the five events she qualified for. “I’m glad I went for it,” Takagi said with a smile.

Takagi still has the team pursuit on Tuesday, in which Japan is aiming for a second consecutive gold, and the 1,000 meters on Thursday.