Nao Kodaira, Japan’s first Olympic women’s speed skating champion, sets retirement

Nao Kodaira
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Nao Kodaira, the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic speed skating title, said she will race for the last time at her national championships in her hometown in October, according to Japanese media.

“When I thought about how long life is, I didn’t want it to be only about speed skating,” the 35-year-old Kodaira said Tuesday, according to multiple reported translations. “I felt that now was around the right time.

In 2018, Kodaira won Japan’s second-ever Olympic speed skating gold medal, taking the women’s 500m two decades after Hiroyasu Shimizu won the men’s 500m at the 1998 Nagano Games in Kodaira’s hometown.

She skated an Olympic record to beat home favorite and 2010 and 2014 gold medalist Lee Sang-Hwa of South Korea. After the race, Kodaira and Lee skated a lap together, raising their respective flags in one of the memorable moments of the PyeongChang Games.

Japanese women won two more golds in South Korea: in the team pursuit and mass start (Nana Takagi, who announced her retirement last week). Kodaira also took 1000m silver earlier in the 2018 Games.

This year, Kodaira was considered a medal favorite in the 500m, but was slowed by an ankle injury and finished 17th, 1.05 seconds behind American winner Erin Jackson.

“I always thought Beijing would probably be my last Olympics,” Kodaira said, according to Olympics.com. “I thought it wouldn’t be a bad time to take my life into the next phase. I started having conversations about this around the summer last year.”

Kodaira owns the Japanese female records of 34 individual World Cup victories, six individual world championships medals and two individual world titles.

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