By Sakura Murakami
BEIJING (Reuters) -Japan’s Miho Takagi clinched her first gold of the Beijing Olympics on Thursday, following up on the three other medals she has already won in the Winter Games so far, as she sailed to victory in the women’s 1,000 metres speed skating.
Takagi kept close to the pace set by silver medallist Jutta Leerdam at the onset of the race. Despite falling behind at one point, she breezed through the final lap half a second ahead of Leerdam’s time and crossed the finish line in an Olympic record of 1 minute 13.19 seconds.
The 27-year-old punched the air in delight upon seeing her record after crossing the finish line.
“I was struggling with my previous races, so I was just like ‘Yay!’,” Takagi said with a laugh as she recalled the moment she saw her time.
“It feels like this Olympics was really long… Each medal is different, and I went through a lot of emotions during this Winter Games,” she added.
Takagi, who clocked the fastest time this season of 1:11.83, won two individual medals in Beijing, finishing second in the 1,500m and winning a surprise silver in the 500m.
The gold medal appeared to be just within reach as she raced ahead of her Canadian rivals towards the finish line in the women’s team pursuit, until a fall by her sister and team mate Nana Takagi meant they had to settle for a silver instead.
That silver medal podium, which the team stood on solemnly and at times in tears, was the sixth of Takagi’s career and made her the most decorated Japanese female Olympian.
When asked about how that race had impacted her, Takagi’s face appeared to darken.
“It’s not like it’s behind me… To be honest I was just so overwhelmed with what I had to do for the 1,000m. I didn’t actually have much space to give anything else a thought,” she said hesitantly.
“I think it was a good thing that all I had to do was focus on what I had to do,” she added.
Leerdam had hoped to follow in fellow Dutchwoman and previous champion Jorien ter Mors’s footsteps to win gold. She was gliding effortlessly through her laps, at times ahead of the Olympic record, but almost slipped on a corner, wobbling dangerously and touching the ice before powering through to finish her distance.
She could be seen shaking her head slightly after completing the distance in one minute 13.83 seconds.
“I’m happy, but after the race I was a little sad with my corner that cost me some seconds. I had too much speed and wasn’t used to it. I just thought ‘Oh’, and hammered one more lap,” she said after her race.
Leerdam claimed silver, while world record holder Brittany Bowe of the United States took bronze in 1:14.61.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Jacqueline Wong and Hugh Lawson)