Olympics / Winter Olympics / Speedskating

Miho Takagi's coach praises performance in 1,500-meter race

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Miho Takagi was unable to conceal her disappointment at missing out on the women’s 1,500-meter speedskating gold medal, but her Dutch coach Johan de Wit said she has every right to be proud of taking silver at the Pyeongchang Games on Monday.

Takagi came to Pyeongchang aiming to replicate her stunning success on the World Cup circuit this season — four wins from four races in the 1,500 — but had to be content with a runner-up finish behind Ireen Wust of the Netherlands.

Wust’s time of 1 minute, 54.35 seconds was just 0.20 of a second faster than Takagi, who came into the race having placed fifth in the 3,000 on Saturday. The Netherlands’ Marrit Leenstra finished third with a time of 1:55.26.

“I have won all of my World Cup races this season so I was determined to win (gold),” said Takagi. “But Johan said he was proud of me and told me I had taken a bite out of the Netherlands.”

Indeed, Takagi’s silver medal — the first in an individual event at an Olympics by a Japanese female speedskater — prevented a repeat of the Dutch sweep in the 3,000 and de Wit, who was hired by Japan as a middle to long-distance coach for the women’s squad three years ago, hailed her achievement.

“The result was a silver but I think we can all be very proud of this result,” said de Wit. “Three years ago speedskating in Japan was nothing and now we are skating for medals.

“Of course the goal was a gold medal and Miho won four World Cups already this season, but this was her fastest time on a lowland rink. This was not her best race (but) the pressure was immense, it was so high.”

Takagi missed out on a spot at the Sochi Games four years ago but has clearly benefited from de Wit’s tutelage.

“In three years we (Japan) have become one of the strongest speedskating countries and I am the coach so you can fill the rest in,” de Wit joked.

“I thought before the race that the winning time would be 1:54.0 and I know that Miho can do that but she didn’t. The silver medal is the result but we have to be very proud of this.”

De wit, however, said Japanese skaters such as Takagi and 500 and 1,000 gold medal favorite Nao Kodaira have to become stronger mentally to deal with the pressure and expectations placed on them by the Japanese media.

“The press in Japan is fantastic and I am glad that everyone has come here to support us, but it also gives a lot of pressure to the skaters, especially Miho and Nao Kodaira,” he said.

“There is so much attention and then you have to do it. The Olympics is very special so the pressure is already very high and the expectations are high. But we have to deal with it, that is our job and we have to get stronger.”