Keiichiro Nagashima and former world record holder Joji Kato carry Japan’s hopes in the men’s speedskating competition at the Winter Games, and both have the added incentive of a bumper payout should either of them pick up a gold medal in Sochi.
Nagashima and Kato took silver and bronze, respectively in the 500 meters at the Vancouver Games four years ago.
In Vancouver, Nidec Sankyo Corp. offered its skaters ¥20 million for gold, ¥10 million for silver and ¥6 million for bronze, and that amount has been set aside for the upcoming games, with half coming out of company chairman Shigenobu Nagamori’s pocket.
Last month, Nagamori dangled a carrot at a news conference alongside the two sprinters and said, “for those who stir our hearts with unheard-of victories, I think we need to give this even more thought.”
Nagashima has a pair of victories on the World Cup circuit this season and also finished third in Berlin in December.
The 31-year-old, however, could only manage 16th overall after two 500 and two 1,000 races at the ISU world sprint championships in Nagano this month and will be eager to pick up the pace again in Sochi.
“I will try hard to achieve the best possible results (in Sochi),” said Nagashima, who is currently 10th in the World Cup rankings led by American Shani Davis.
Kato scored his 14th career World Cup 500-meter win in Salt Lake City in November and was second in Berlin.
“I want to win the gold medal and share my joy with everyone,” said Kato.
Sankyo coach Toshiaki Imamura hoped that his two stars will tie for the gold medal, meaning they will both fly home first class at the company’s expense.
But Kato said, “I have no intention of tying anyone for gold.”
“Likewise,” Nagashima said.
In the women’s individual events, Japan came up short in Vancouver, although the women’s pursuit team did pull off a shock by winning the silver medal.
Nao Kodaira was part of that team but she could only manage 12th place in the 500 and had a pair of fifth-place finishes in the 1,000 and 1,500.
Kodaira has yet to win at a World Cup meet but has come close with five runnerup finishes, the most recent in Nagano last season.
“I want to put on a performance and cross the finish line without a look of regret on my face,” she said.