Japan’s Takagi falls in mass start speed skating semis, fails to defend title

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nana Takagi participates in the women’s mass start speed skating semifinals in Beijing on Saturday.

Defending Olympic champion Nana Takagi tumbled out of the women’s mass start speed skating semifinals at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday.

The 29-year-old, who won gold in the Pyeongchang Winter Games four years ago, had been well-placed to qualify for the final, but fell on the last corner of the last lap.

The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten, bronze medalist in Pyeongchang, won gold in the final, with Japan’s Ayano Sato placing eighth.

During her bid for back-to-back championships, Takagi’s left foot drifted astray as she stepped into the final curve of the last lap, resulting in a spill that left her lying on the ice.

Takagi fell on the same corner four days earlier in the women’s pursuit final, costing the Japanese team gold.

In the mass start event, athletes compete for points based on their in-race position every four laps and their final position after 16 laps.

On this occasion, Takagi said her left leg did not move as she wanted it to, due to contact with other athletes.

This was the first time in about two years for Takagi to compete in the mass event against international competitors due to event cancellations amid the coronavirus pandemic, which may have contributed to her lack of game-level instinct.

“I went into the race psyched up, but I didn’t know how I was going to race,” she said.

But even with the bitter memories of the pursuit final still fresh in her mind, she still showed great heart.

“I guess we came second [in the pursuit] because of my tumble, but no one apportioned blame. Everyone treated me normally,” she said. Takagi also noted that the support she received from Japan helped her retain a fighting spirit.

Though Takagi’s Olympics ended in disappointment, she remained upbeat, saying, “I’m looking forward to the [World Cup] Finals in the Netherlands in March. I want to do well there.”