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Olympic champ Nao Kodaira triumphs in first 500-meter race of season

Kyodo

Nao Kodaira opened the new season on a strong note Friday, topping the podium in the women’s 500 meters at the Japan Cup.

The Pyeongchang Olympic gold medal-winning speedskater, competing in her first official meet of the season, won the race in 37.78 seconds at M-Wave ice arena. Miho Takagi, who earned three medals at the 2018 Games, finished second 0.19 seconds behind her.

“It’s a passing score,” Kodaira said. “I’ll end up losing my breath if I start the season with full force.”

Kodaira hit the ice for preseason training about a month later than planned due to the strong earthquake that hit Hokkaido in September.

The 32-year-old has said her goal for the season is to break the current 500 world record. She set a new mark in the women’s 1,000 last year.

Despite her dominance in the 500, Kodaira has not been able to surpass the world record of 36.36 held by South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa. Lee settled for silver at February’s Pyeongchang Games after finishing 0.39 seconds behind Kodaira.

Kodaira is set to compete at the Oct. 26-28 national single distance championships, where she aims to win her ninth Japanese title in the event.