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Nao Kodaira sprints to top of standings at worlds

Kyodo

Nao Kodaira won the first 500-meter race and finished fourth in the 1,000 to position herself at the top of the women’s standings at the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships on Saturday.

Kodaira clocked 37.27 seconds for gold in the 500 ahead of Austria’s Vanessa Herzog (37.31) and Russia’s Angelina Golikova (37.49) at the Thialf Ice Arena. Despite finishing outside of the top three in the 1,000, she earned the top spot with 74.775 points.

The 32-year-old Kodaira won the overall points title in 2017 but dropped out of the competition before the last event last year due to illness.

“I haven’t returned to my best form yet but I was helped by the cheering,” said Kodaira, whose 37-race unbeaten streak in the 500 ended Feb. 8 at the world single distances championships in Inzell, Germany.

“I was able to shift my mental gears (after losing the crown to Herzog in Inzell),” she said.

Miho Takagi (1:14.82), who won silver behind American Brittany Bowe (1:14.60) in the 1,000, is second overall with 75.030 points after the opening day of competition.

In the men’s event, Tatsuya Shinhama captured gold in the 500 meters with a time of 34.66 seconds and Masaya Yamada (1:08.03) placed second in the 1,000, a race won by local favorite Kjeld Nuis (1:07.86).

“I lost my balance when one of my boots broke near the 50-meter mark (in the 500 race). To be honest I thought that was the end of it. But I still have a chance for a podium finish. I’m going all out,” said Shinhama, who was fifth in the 1,000 and fourth overall.

Pavel Kulizhnikov of Russia, who took third in both races, leads the men’s standings with 68.770 points.

At the world sprint championships, two 500-meter and two 1,000-meter races are held, with the champion crowned based on the cumulative ranking.