GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - After winning an individual silver in the women’s 1,500 meters and then a bronze in the 1,000, Miho Takagi finally got the medal she coveted the most.
The one that made history, the one that saw her become the first Japanese woman ever to complete a full set of medals in a single Winter Olympics.
Four years after missing out on a spot at the Sochi Olympics, Takagi struck gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Games as the heartbeat of the women’s pursuit team on Wednesday night.
“It (a full set of medals) was a theme that came up even before the pursuit event began for me but it was never really about getting a third medal,” Takagi said.
“The pursuit gold was the one I was determined to get the most. I wanted to deliver the best skate I could with these teammates of mine.
“All I wanted was to go out there and do it, get that victory. That I have three medals really doesn’t come into it from an emotional perspective.”
The Japanese team of Takagi, her older sister Nana and Ayaka Kikuchi reached the final with the fastest time in the semis at Gangneung Oval.
Ayano Sato replaced Kikuchi and the squad, which came from behind in a riveting encounter on the fifth lap, beat the mighty Netherlands in the final, posting an Olympic record of 2 minutes, 53.89 seconds.
“This is something we could not have achieved without the power of each member of this team. I’m overjoyed,” said Miho Takagi, who made her Winter Olympic debut as an up-and-coming 15-year-old in Vancouver in 2010.
“This record we have posted today gives confidence to Japanese people. A lot of young Japanese skaters can go for this now and I’d like them to chase after this record.”
Takagi said winning the gold medal was fueled by the confidence instilled in the Japanese team after it won the pursuit gold at the single-distance world championships in Heerenveen, in the Netherlands, in 2015.
“Three years ago, after the Sochi Olympic season when my results weren’t good, I got together with Ayaka and my older sister and we managed to get to number one in the world,” she said.
“That’s where it all began, that’s where we realized we could beat the world. If we hadn’t done that I don’t think we could have achieved what we did today.”
This season, the Japanese team has raised the bar even further.
The Takagi sisters and Sato won a World Cup meet in Salt Lake City with a world record time of 2:50.87 on Dec. 8, rewriting the mark Japan set the previous week by 3.01 seconds.
It was the third time the Japanese team won a World Cup event in a world record time in as many meets this term.
The same lineup broke Canada’s 2009 world record with a time of 2:55.77 in the Netherlands on Nov. 10, before the Takagi sisters and Kikuchi clocked 2:53.88 on Dec. 2, in Calgary, Alberta.
Even the Dutch team beaten in Wednesday’s race had to concede Japan had put itself firmly on the speedskating world map.
“They are getting very good and we were not good enough. Japan the whole season have been really good in the team pursuit. We will work and see what happens over four years and go for it,” Antoinette de Jong said.