Speed skater Nao Kodaira, who earned a silver medal in the women's 1,000 meters at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Feb. 14, admits that she lacked faith in her own ability to win the event.
"I didn't believe in myself enough as a skater over 1,000 meters," Kodaira said, after narrowly losing out to Dutch skater Jorien ter Mors on Feb. 14.
The Japanese sprint queen, whose speed skating forte is the 500 meters, has improved considerably in the 1,000 meters -- winning the event at this season's world cup -- but her skepticism regarding her own ability showed in Pyeongchang.
Three races prior to Kodaira's pairing on Feb. 14, ter Mors set a new Olympic record, piling the pressure on Kodaira. Once Kodaira completed her first 200 meters, it then became a battle against ter Mors' new record, but the Japanese skater raised her back slightly too high after the final curve, which cost her precious time.
Following the previous Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, Kodaira moved to the Netherlands. There, she enhanced her self-discipline by training with Ireen Wust, who won the women's 1,500 meter event in Pyeongchang on Feb. 12. "I was able to take part in some excellent training with the best group of women's skaters in the world," Kodaira says. Her experience in the Netherlands made her think that Japan needs to at least match or even beat the training conditions available in the North European country.
Two seasons before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Kodaira returned to Japan. She asked her coach Masahiro Yuki to give her more time practicing with male athletes, at her training base at Shinshu University.
Kodaira is a thoughtful skater. She looks at the sport in a theoretical way, having written her graduation thesis on differences in movement between herself and foreign skaters going round curves. Also, by training with men, Kodaira tried to "make her physique more masculine," aiming to reduce body fat and improve muscle strength. She thought that she could become explosively quick by changing her body shape.
Kodaira tends to lead the pack during women's training sessions, but when training with male skater Daichi Yamanaka, she often struggled to keep up. "Before, I had wanted to be the fastest woman, but now, having trained with men, the speed they skate at has become the norm," she says. Kodaira has also become better at focusing on her own skating, rather than comparing herself too much with those around her.
"Men's skating is 10 years ahead of that of women," her coach Yuki once told her. As the sprint queen gears up for her forte event, the 500 meters, on Feb. 18, Kodaira is determined to unveil to the world a performance that no one has ever seen before.