Japan sprinter Nao Kodaira to close book on storied career

Japan’s first female Olympic speed skating champion Nao Kodaira announced her retirement Tuesday, saying she will bring her competitive career to an end this fall.

Kodaira, the winner of the women’s 500-meter title at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, has been overall world sprint champion twice, collected two titles over 500 at the world single distances championships and has 34 career World Cup wins in the 500 and 1,000 meters.

“The last race of my athletic career will be the 500 meters at the national single-distance championships in October this year,” she said of the Oct. 22-24 event, to be held in her home prefecture of Nagano.

“I wanted to skate one more race while I have some control over my body, and I wanted to race my last race in my home of Shinshu (the region also known as Nagano).”

As one of Japan’s most prominent speed skaters, the 35-year-old competed at four consecutive Winter Olympics from the 2010 Vancouver Games and has long been one of the dominant forces in women’s sprint races.

An ankle injury kept her from finding a winning form at the Beijing Games in February, where she finished 17th in the 500 and 10th in the 1,000.

Her best Olympics came in 2018 when she added a silver in the 1,000 to the gold she won in her pet 500 event.

She set a world record over 1,000 meters in December 2017, skating a 1-minute, 12.09 second time in Salt Lake City, Utah. That record stood until Brittany Bowe of the United States broke it at the same venue in March 2019.

“Until October I’ll be training and taking part in local community events. I’m undecided about my post-sport life, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to take to the ice with junior-level skaters,” Kodaira said.

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