GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Nao Kodaira sped around the oval, furiously pumping her arms and legs. She charged across the finish line, the 500-meter Olympic speedskating gold medal easily in hand.
With two pairs to go, Kodaira could watch knowing that two-time defending champion Lee Sang-hwa was unlikely to catch her despite the loud cheers of the Korean fans.
Kodaira was timed in 36.94 seconds on Sunday, becoming the first woman to race under 37 seconds at sea level.
Lee clocked 37.67 to earn silver, and Karolina Erbanova of the Czech Republic took bronze in 37.34.
Kodaira came into the Olympics as the reigning world champion and the dominant sprinter on the World Cup circuit, where she has won 15 straight races dating to 2016.
Her time was an Olympic record, bettering the mark of 37.28 set by Lee four years ago in Sochi.
Kodaira is just the second Japanese speedskater to win Olympic gold, joining Hiroyasu Shimizu, who won the men’s 500 at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Kodaira and Lee carried their respective countries’ flags as they skated around in a parade lap. A crying Lee got a hug from Kodaira as the crowd chanted Lee’s name.
Brittany Bowe finished fifth in 37.530, and her U.S. teammate Heather Bergsma was 11th in 38.13.
Erin Jackson, the first black woman to make a U.S. Olympic long-track team, was 24th of 31 skaters in 39.20
The 500 used to be decided over two races, in which each skater had to start both in the inner lane and the outer lane once. Now it’s one race only since the mass start has returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1932.
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