Teammates, fans stand by speed skater Nana Takagi

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ayano Sato, right, and Miho Takagi, left, stand close to Nana Takagi after the women’s team pursuit final on Tuesday at the Beijing Games.

Teammates and fans rallied around Nana Takagi after her fall during the women’s team pursuit final on Tuesday at the Beijing Games.

Japan’s speed skaters were unable to secure a second consecutive gold in the event, which Canada won with an Olympic record time of 2:53.44. Supporters who gathered in her hometown of Makubetsu, Hokkaido, praised the trio for taking the silver and sent words of encouragement.

Skating in perfect unison, the Japanese speed skaters had a 0.32-second lead over powerhouse Canada with 200 meters remaining. But on the final curve, Nana lost her balance and fell, slamming into the wall behind her teammates.

Nana got up and finished the race, but remained bent over with her hands on her knees, unable to look up. She put her hands together and apologized to her sister and teammate Miho Takagi as she approached her. As Miho put her arm around her shoulder, Nana’s tears flowed freely.

Pursuit teams from around the world set their sights on Japan after it won gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Nana started a new core-building workout to enhance her physical strength, and led the entire team’s efforts to grow stronger. When asked for advice by teammate Ayano Sato, who is four years younger, Nana told her to lean forward more in corners.

“If I hadn’t fallen, we might have won. It’s so regrettable,” Nana said in a tearful voice after the final.

But there was no blame from those around her.

“I’m proud that we’ve been able to compete together for four years,” Miho said. Sato concurred, saying, “The time I’ve spent thinking and worrying with these two is precious to me. Now I want to simply say thank you.”

About 100 people gathered online and at other venues in the sisters’ hometown of Makubetsu to cheer the team on Tuesday. They expressed sympathy and regret as they saw Nana fall and cry.

“She has a strong sense of responsibility, so she must have felt desperately sorry,” said Nana’s speed skating coach in high school, Shunichi Higashide. “But I really want to praise her for her good performance.”

Masatoshi Kubo taught Nana speedskating when she was an elementary school student and watched the final on TV at home. Kubo said she was good at gripping the ice with her blades and seldom lost a race.

“This is the first time I’ve seen her stumble and cry. I want to see her smile in the next event,” Kubo said.

Nana will compete Saturday in the women’s mass start, in which she won gold at the Pyeongchang Games.