Ex-speed skaters reunite at site of poignant Olympic moment

Lee Sang-hwa, right, and Nao Kodaira, former speed skaters from Korea and Japan, embrace each other at Gangneung Oval in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, during the Winter Youth Olympics, Jan. 22. Yonhap

Six years after sharing one of the most poignant moments in recent Olympic memory, two speed skating gold medalists from Korea and Japan, Lee Sang-hwa and Nao Kodaira, were reunited at the very site on Monday.Lee and Nao met at Gangneung Oval in Gangneung, some 160 kilometers east of Seoul, the venue for speed skating at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The oval is back in the spotlight this month as the host of speed skating races for the Gangwon Winter Youth Olympics.Lee is serving as a co-head of the organizing committee. Kodaira traveled to Korea as an Athlete Role Model (ARM) for the Winter Youth Games chosen by the International Skating Union (ISU), and has been sharing her wisdom with teenage athletes from her native Japan and other parts of the world.Lee, 34, and Kodaira, 37, are two of the greatest speed skaters of their generation.Lee won the women’s 500-meter gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. She still holds the 500-meter world record with 36.36 seconds. Kodaira ended Lee’s Olympic winning streak with her 500-meter gold medal in 2018, with the Korean star finishing in second place. Kodaira set an Olympic record of 36.94 seconds then.

After the race, Lee and Kodaira shared the victory lap in front of an emotional crowd at the oval. As Lee circled the ice waving her national flag, overcome with emotions after falling short of her third straight gold, Kodaira approached her rival and embraced her in consolation. It became one of the lasting images of the first Winter Games held in Korea, and the two were later recognized by the 2018 Olympic organizers with the Korea-Japan Friendship Award. Lee said Monday she and Kodaira had remained in touch after the Olympics, but seeing her at Gangneung Oval felt much different than doing so at other places.”I must have cried every time I’ve seen Nao over the years. As I was walking to the oval today, I tried really hard to keep my emotions in check,” Lee said with a smile. “Although I am still choking up as I am speaking, I’ve been thinking happy thoughts. I know it’s not easy for us to be back together at this rink. It does feel a little strange to be here. I feel like I am back as a skater. It’s thrilling and emotional at the same time.”

Kodaira said she felt much the same way.”We didn’t have a chance to go up against each other on the ice after the 2018 Olympics,” Kodaira said through an interpreter. “And now that we’re here, it’s almost like we’re back as competitors. It feels great.”Both skaters said they wanted the young athletes at Gangwon 2024 to make the most of their experience.”I hope they will gain some valuable learning experience at the Winter Youth Olympics and then make their mark on the senior Winter Olympics, too,” Lee said. “I often wondered what it would have been like if we had the Youth Olympics during my time. I think the opportunity to compete here will help young athletes tremendously.”Kodaira added, “I am looking forward to helping Sang-hwa to make this a successful competition 카지노사이트킹 for the young athletes

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