GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Long-distance specialist Miho Takagi will be looking to make more Japanese speedskating history on Saturday when she lines up for the women’s 3,000 meters, the sport’s first medal event at the Pyeongchang Games.
The 23-year-old, who in addition to the team pursuit is also entered in the 1,000, her signature 1,500 and the mass start, became the first skater from her country to win the 3,000 on the World Cup circuit in Calgary in December.
And now she is targeting a repeat of that success on the Olympic stage, a win that would go some way to banishing the crushing disappointment of missing out on a spot on the Sochi team four years ago.
“For me, personally, I want to medal because I would like to think that it could generate good momentum for Japan,” said Takagi, who made her Olympic debut in Vancouver at age 15 in 2010 before failing to qualify for Sochi.
“It’s not that easy, especially in a race like the 3,000 meters. But I just want to clear my mind of any unnecessary thoughts and just prepare for the 3,000 the best way I can.”
Although Takagi has a decent shot at a medal in the 3,000, she faces strong competition from the likes of World Cup rankings top three Ivanie Blondin of Canada, three-time Olympic gold medalist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Natalia Voronina, who will be competing as an Olympic Athlete from Russia.
Dutchwoman Ireen Wust, meanwhile, has no lack of motivation either as she aims to become only the third speedskater to win three gold medals in a single event. She took gold in Sochi in 2014 and Turin in 2006.
Takagi is a gold-medal favorite as a member of the world record-holding women’s pursuit squad and her best shot at an individual gold lies over 1,500.
The Hokkaido native, a talented soccer player before taking up speed skating, has won all four of her 1,500 races on the World Cup circuit this season.
“I’ll be able to think for the first time that I have become a force to be reckoned with once I have won at the Olympics,” she said.
“There was some frustration after being left off the team for Sochi. I’ll be treating these Olympics like they are my first and unleash everything I have built up over the last eight years.”
Takagi, her sister Nana and Ayano Sato stormed to victory in 2 minutes, 50.87 seconds to set a new world record in the women’s pursuit at a World Cup meet in Salt Lake City in December.
That was the third time Japan had won a World Cup event with a world record in as many meets this season, the Takagi sisters and Ayaka Kikuchi having set a world record of 2:53.88 the previous week in Canada.
Miho Takagi has finished second behind world record holder Nao Kodaira three times in the 1,000 this season in World Cup meets.
But she knows only too well that upsetting her compatriot in South Korea will be a difficult task.
“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 after Kodaira beat her to set the 1,000 world record.