GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Nao Kodaira added another laurel to her dominant season in the 500 meters on Friday, becoming the first Japanese woman to win an individual title at the ISU’s World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships.
The 30-year-old, who has won all six of the World Cup 500s she has raced this season to lead the women’s circuit at that distance, blew away the field to win in 37.13 seconds.
“I didn’t get too nervous and could concentrate on what I had to do. I’m enjoying how I skate every time I go out there at the moment,” said Kodaira, who rewrote her Japan national record in the process.
Two-time defending Olympic champ and world record holder Lee Sang-hwa of South Korea finished second, 0.35 seconds back on the same rink that will host the speed skating in next February’s Winter Olympics.
A slightly late start didn’t deter Kodaira, who quickly regained her composure and gathered pace down the back straight in a commanding win.
“I tried to stay calm and regain my usual form,” Kodaira said. “I’ve won it and I didn’t do anything unusual for it. … I’ll give myself a passing score given it was my personal best.
“I’m genuinely happy to become the world champion for the first time. If I can surpass my mark again in a year’s time, then it will be (a great result) on the ultimate stage.”
Kodaira also appeared in the women’s pursuit along with Nana Takagi and Misaki Oshigiri, but Japan couldn’t reclaim the title it won two years ago, finishing runner-up 0.65 seconds behind the Netherlands (2:55.85).
In the men’s 500, Joji Kato, finished eighth, while countryman Tsubasa Hasagawa was sixth in the race won by Sochi Olympic silver medalist Jan Smeekens of the Netherlands in 34.58.