Speed skating queen Kodaira caps career with victory in 500
The Yomiuri Shimbun
18:02 JST, October 22, 2022
NAGANO — Former Olympic speed skating champion Nao Kodaira capped her historic career in style, winning an eighth straight title in the women’s 500 meters at the All-Japan Single Distance Championships on Saturday in Nagano.
The 36-year-old Kodaira clocked an impressive 37.49 seconds to close out a career in which she became Japan’s first-ever female Olympic gold medalist in speed skating when she won the 500 meters at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
The native of Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, announced in April that she would retire this year and revealed she would compete in a “farewell race” at the championships to be held near her hometown.
Family members were among the crowd that packed Nagano’s 6,400-seat M-WAVE arena, which had its first sellout since the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Kodaira got off to a good start and went smoothly around the rink, then gave a short fist pump after crossing the finish line as the crowd roared.
“I am so happy to be able to race in a [packed] venue just I had dreamed of,” said Kodaira with a slight tremble in her voice.
Kodaira made her first Olympic podium when she was a member of the Japan squad that won the silver medal in the team pursuit at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Serving as Japan team captain at the Pyeongchang Olympics, she made Japanese history with her gold medal in the 500, to which she added a silver medal in the 1,000.
However, there would no further success at the Beijing Olympics in February. She suffered an ankle sprain just before the meet and lagged behind to 17th in the 500 and 10th in the 1,000.