A year without overseas competition amid the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for speedskating star Miho Takagi, but has also given her a different perspective on her sport.
The adversity didn’t stop Takagi from an impressive sweep of all five distances at December’s national championships, and the Hokkaido native is now gearing up for next year’s winter games in Beijing.
“It was fortunate I could still compete in domestic competitions,” Takagi told Kyodo News in an interview. “Because I couldn’t go overseas, it was a year that made me think on many fronts about how to handle the situation.
“I was able to take away a lot of positives.”
The 26-year-old, who made her Olympic debut at the age of 15 in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, won three medals in 2018 in Pyeongchang — team pursuit gold, silver in the 1,500 meters and bronze in the 1,000.
Her five-event nationals sweep last year at Meiji Hokkaido Tokachi Oval has more than showed where she stands domestically, as she topped the podium in the 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 during a season in which she renewed numerous national records.
“It was great I was able to improve my records in the end, but it’s dangerous to look at them without considering there was no jet lag or long travel,” she said. “It’s possible I may feel more distressed by those things next season.”
Still, the all-rounder acknowledged she was able to stay on top of her game under the most unexpected of circumstances.
“Your emotion naturally gets heightened with that thrill of interacting with (strong overseas) skaters around. I tried hard this year to get my mindset right all on my own,” she said. “And there was no dip in motivation.”
Takagi failed to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Games but more than made up for that disappointment four years later.
She has high hopes for one individual gold medal or maybe even two next year in Beijing, especially in the 1,000 and 1,500, where she expects the same high intensity she has felt before.
“I was desperate to go up the ladder around the time of Pyeongchang. I was finally on the podium (at an international meet) a year before the games and was a regular during the Olympic season,” she recalls. “I was trying to see how far I could go. I was tense all the time.”
“I feel the sense of ‘doing battle’ (in Beijing) will be bigger than in Pyeongchang. I felt you have to battle against everything at the Olympics — I’ll have to do so against myself and the coronavirus, as well as that unique atmosphere and pressure.”
But this time, she said there will be a difference. Although she was conflicted about whether to compete in the first few months of the pandemic, over the past 12 months Takagi has come to see her vocation as more than just participating in nerve-wracking competition.
“I’ve been facing my inner conflict, and reached a point where I can feel it’s fun to compete,” she said. “At this moment, I’m putting more emphasis on how I want to battle out there, more than on the results themselves.”
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