Nao Kodaira sets world record in 1,000-meter race

Kyodo, AP

Nao Kodaira set a world record while winning the women’s 1,000 meters on the final day of action at a speedskating World Cup meet on Sunday.

The 31-year-old sprint specialist clocked 1 minute, 12.09 seconds at the Utah Olympic Oval, becoming the first Japanese woman to rewrite the world record for an individual Olympic speedskating event.

Kodaira, who eclipsed her own national record in the 500 on Friday, took to the ice in the final pairing alongside compatriot Miho Takagi and shaved 0.09 second off the previous mark set by American Brittany Bowe in 2015.

Takagi was runner-up in 1.12.63.

“I’m allowed to be happy today,” said Kodaira, who is often her own worst critic.

“I was totally focused on my own race. This is where the battle (for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February) begins. I have to be careful not to get injured or sick or let my guard down, and aim for higher ground.”

Kodaira’s best Olympic performance in individual events is fifth place — in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters (2010 Vancouver Games) and the 500 (2014 Sochi Games). She was part of the silver-winning women’s pursuit team in 2010.

Despite her dominance in the 500, the distance in which she picked up her 15th consecutive World Cup win on Saturday with a time of 36.54 seconds, Kodaira has not been able to surpass the world record of 36.36 held by Lee Sang-hwa of South Korea.

Takagi improved her personal best in the 1,000 but admitted Kodaira was too good to beat.

“All I feel is discouragement. I didn’t do bad, so it’s all the more depressing that I have to admit the difference in skills (between myself and Kodaira),” Takagi said.

“It’s disappointing when a skater you are paired with sets a world record in that race. It gives me more than enough motivation for the 1,000,” she said.

Joji Kato was the last Japanese speedskater to set a world record in an individual event, accomplishing the feat in the men’s 500 in November 2005.

Bowe, who, improved on a pair of 13th-place finishes in the 500s, finished in 1:13.55 to place sixth in the 1,000.

Bowe is back after being sidelined for over a year after suffering a concussion in a collision with a teammate in July 2016.

Seeing her world record fall broke Bowe’s heart, but she took comfort in ending the weekend with her strongest performance over three days. She showed progress after losing significant time to injuries a year ago.

“My skating felt better,” Bowe said. “The timing felt better. I feel like I was connecting and, yeah, I definitely felt stronger than I have so far this year.”

Canada’s Ted-Jan Bloemen finished in 6:01.86 to set the world record in the men’s 5,000. Dutch skater Sven Kramer held the previous record of 6:03.32. Germany’s Patrick Beckert was second in 6.07.02, and countryman Moritz Geisreiter followed in 6:07.31

Russia’s Denis Yuskov won the men’s 1,000 in 1:06.92. Yuskov edged Dutchman skater Koen Verweij, who finished in 106.94. Russia’s Pavel Kulizhnikov followed in 1:06.96..

Russia’s Natalia Voronina took the women’s 3,000 in 3:57.70. The Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova was second in 3:57.84, and Germany’s Claudia Pechstein finished third in 3:58.69.