PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- 2018 Winter Olympic speed skating gold medalist Nao Kodaira had to hold back tears during a news conference on Feb. 19, a day after she claimed her first Olympic gold in the women's 500-meter race, when speaking of former teammate Miyako Sumiyoshi, who competed with Kodaira at the 2014 Games in Sochi and died in January this year at age 30.
"It's regretful that I can't personally tell her (about my Olympic victory)," Kodaira told reporters, choking back her tears.
Kodaira and Sumiyoshi were in the same year at Shinshu University and both competed in short-distance races at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Sumiyoshi had aspired to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics as well, but was not selected. She was found dead at her home in Nagano on Jan. 20.
After bidding a final farewell to her former teammate, Kodaira participated in the Jan. 24 inauguration ceremony for Japan's Pyeongchang athletes as the team captain. Kodaira said she thought about Sumiyoshi often then.
"She (Sumiyoshi) was always on my mind, but I thought I had to concentrate on my race," Kodaira recalled. A related party told Kodaira after Sumiyoshi's death that the late Sochi Olympian had said, "If Nao wins gold, it's the same as me winning it."
Overcoming the sorrow and shock, Kodaira won two medals at the 2018 Games, including silver in the 1,000-meter race.