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Skating Takagi sisters aim for another win in Pyeongchang team pursuit

Nana Takagi, left, and her sister Miho are seen in Salt Lake City in this Dec. 10, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

The sight of Japanese speed skaters Nana Takagi and her younger sister Miho taking a winning lap together on the rink has become quite a common sight at international team pursuit competitions.

The sisters, aged 25 and 23, respectively, formed the main pillar of the Japanese women's team, which not only won all three of its races at the 2017 World Cup in November and December, but also set world records there.

At the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Japanese women's team finished second in the team pursuit qualifying race, and is gearing up for the semifinals and finals on Feb. 21. The team is inarguably the primary gold medal hopeful, ahead of the Dutch team that conquered at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Nana has always been called "the elder sister of Miho (Takagi)." Miho rose to stardom when she produced outstanding results in an Olympic trial and took part in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, at age 15. Nana recalls that it was annoying to see her younger sister being in the spotlight as a "super junior high schooler," as she was called back then.

Although Miho started skating after Nana and their brother Daisuke, now 27, the youngest sibling has achieved a milestone far ahead of them. For Nana, Miho's infinite growth has been motivation for her to better herself in the sport.

"I don't want to accept myself being overtaken by my sister," she tells herself.

A changing experience for Nana was seeing Miho being completely defeated by top skaters at the 2010 Vancouver Games, ending up in 35th place in the 1,000-meter race and 23rd in the 1,500 meters. Nana, then a second-year high school girl, learned that there were far better skaters out there in the world.

Nana subsequently set her sights on the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She joined a corporate team upon graduating from high school, thinking that concentrating on skating would be the shortcut to her dream of rising to the top of the sport. At the same time, Miho, then a university student, was cynical about Nana, who had proclaimed that she would become an Olympian.

At the Olympic trials for the Sochi Games in December 2013, the sisters didn't fare well in the individual events. However, Nana managed to slip into the national team thanks to the trial's focus on team pursuit, while Miho failed to gain a berth.

"I didn't have enough understanding of the importance of screenings for the team pursuit," Miho recalls. "I realized that difference in our eagerness would surface in our actions," she said, comparing Nana's passion with hers.

At Pyeongchang, the Japanese women's team has managed to curb time losses by slashing the number of exchanges of the lead skater during the race from the normal four times to three over six laps. Miho, who already has the bronze medal in the 1,000-meter individual race and the silver in the 1,500 meters under her belt this Olympics, will lead the team for 3 1/2 laps.

Despite the heavy burden of leading the team for such a long time, Miho is determined to hand the front position to Nana while maintaining a high speed. Nana is also considerate of her little sister, saying, "If I can keep up my lap time, it will spare my sister from pushing herself too much."

Their mutual understanding and thoughtfulness about each other may bring them another winning lap at the race on Feb. 21.

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