By Simon Jennings
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Japan dethroned defending champions the Netherlands to claim gold in the women’s Olympic team pursuit final on Wednesday as the Dutch took the silver medal.
The Japanese trio of Miho Takagi, Ayano Sato and Nana Takagi set an Olympic record of two minutes and 53.89 seconds, beating the previous record set by the Netherlands during Monday’s quarter-final by 1.72 seconds.
The United States edged Canada for bronze, their first Olympic speed skating medal since the Vancouver Games in 2010, with Heather Bergsma, Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello finishing 0.45 seconds ahead of their local rivals.
The Netherlands team of Lotte van Beek, Ireen Wust and Antoinette de Jong easily beat the U.S. in their semi-final, but were outskated by Japan even though they brought in the fresh legs of substitute Marrit Leenstra for the final.
World record holders Japan came into the race as the favorites having won nine of the last 11 World Cup races in the event, including the last six.
Skating in perfect symmetry, with the substitute Sato in for Ayaka Kikuchi who raced in the semi-finals, they stormed out of the gates and kept ahead of the three Dutchwomen who won the event in Sochi.
With victory in the bag, the four Japanese skaters took a lap of the track with their flag held between them and they bowed in unison before taking their place on the top step of the podium to accept Japan’s first medal in the event.
The Japanese have now won five of their total 11 medals, including two of their three golds, at the Oval in Gangneung, making it their most successful sport at the current Winter Games and all their speed skating medals have been won by women.
The Dutch, who won 23 of 36 speed skating medals at the Sochi Games, started off on a dominant note in South Korea too, with six gold medals in the first seven races, but have not topped the podium in any of the four races held this week.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings, editing by Ed Osmond)