Nao Kodaira, The Japanese Speed Skater to Beat

Competing in sports is challenging. It goes beyond physical capabilities, stretching and testing all boundaries, including one’s emotional, mental, and psychological capabilities. Not only is it tough to gather the discipline to train, grit through the process, and be able to survive it every day willing to move forward, you have to perfect certain techniques and develop a healthy mindset that puts you ahead of the rest – if you can develop that mindset.

The Olympics becomes such a worldwide feat because 99% of humanity gets to watch the most capable less than 1% of its race reach amazing physical heights with their bodies through different kinds of sports. One particularly interesting sport, however not as popular as others, is speed skating. 

By Sasha Krotov [CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

What Is Speed Skating?

Unlike figure skating, where twists, loops, axels, and dance moves are assessed by judges, speed skating involves a race of contestants sprinting with ice skates to the finish. Speed skating allows for both genders to participate and has been present in Olympic games since 1924. Its highest governing body is the International Skating Union. 

Equipment for speed skating is different from equipment other kinds of skating sports use. Speed skates often have longer blades that extend possibly more than an inch before the heel and inches after the toe. They do not cover the ankle as much as figure-skating skates do, and they take more of an appearance of an athletic sneaker, sometimes looking like cleats without the protruding spikes at the sole.

There are essentially three kinds of speed skating categories, namely marathon speed skating, long track speed skating, and short track speed skating. Long track speed skating is what is used for athletes to compete in the Olympics. 

Winter Sports Connection

In 1892, a winter sport-oriented international federation was put up, as members of colder countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and South Korea enjoyed partaking in these competitions. Other countries that are fond of these cold-climate contests are the U.S., Canada, Germany, Russia, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Japan.

In general, Japanese citizens have built a reputation for themselves over the past years of being disciplined and high-achieving individuals, which makes it no surprise that so many contestants (and winners) in Sports games are of Japanese upbringing and/or descent. One Japanese competitor has risen above the rest to dominate the speed skating scene, and that person is Nao Kodaira. 

By Extracted and retouched by バルバルディ; Original photo by Andrew from New York, USA (_DSC5291) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Learn About Nao Kodaira, A Gold Medalist in the Olympics

Nao Kodaira, whose name is written in Japanese as “小平 奈緒”, was born in Chino city in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture on May 26, 1986. She is currently 31 years old, stands 5 foot 5 inches, and weighs 61 kilograms, or 134 pounds. She is known for representing Japan in the sport of speed skating and has competed in various games since 2007.

When Nao Kodaira finished high school, she went straight to Shinshu University, which is located in Nagano Prefecture. When she finished college, she was not interested in doing what everyone else was doing at the time, which was joining a corporate team. Instead, she pursued speed skating. While she won some games and lost many – particularly devastating to her were those games she lost in Sochi, Russia – she moved to the Netherlands to study how they train for the sport she loved so much, and Kodaira got better. Much, much better. 

Kodaira is most popularly known for being the most recent Olympic champion during the Winter Olympics held in Gengneung Oval, South Korea, from February 10 to February 24, 2018. She also set the record for being the first female Japanese citizen gold Olympian at the sport of speed skating, as well as setting the record as best in the world for the sprint combination, 1000-meter race, and team sprint – but in Japan, she also sets the record on being quickest at the 500-meter race and breaking the sea level barrier best time record of 37 seconds. 

Nao Kodaira: A Breakdown of Wins on Record

As of May 2018, Kodaira has won a total of 15 medals in total. Her first game was the Winter Universiade, organized by International University Sports Federation, also known as FISU. Here, she won silver for the 1000-meter race in Turin, Italy, in 2007. Two years later, she’d win two more medals in Harbin, China – bronze for the 1000-meter race, and gold for the 1500-meter race. 

As for the Asian Winter Games event, Kodaira won bronze in 2011 for competing in the 1500-meter race in Astana/Almaty, Kazakhstan. Fast forward 6 years later, again in the Asian Winter Games but this time held in her home country of Japan in 2017, in Sapporo, Kodaira took home two gold medals for both the 500-meter length and the 1000-meter length. 

The ISU World Cup is another big deal when it comes to speed skating, as the International Skating Union holds this competition. Nao Kodaira won gold for the 500-meter race of years 2014-2015, and 2016-2017. 

By Andrew from New York, USA (_DSC5195) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For World Championships, Kodaira won a bronze medal in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, for two 500-meter races. In the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships held in Calgary, Canada, Kodaira came in first place. She proceeded to win a silver medal for the 1000-meter race in Gangneung, and gold for the 500-meter distance race, also in Gangneung, South Korea. 

The latest in her string of successes is her gold medal in the 500-meter speed skating contest in the winter Olympics held in PyeongChang just this year – but she was no newcomer. In 2010, Kodaira had already participated in the winter Olympics in Vancouver, scoring the silver medal for the team pursuit. 8 years later, she’d also bag the silver medal again for the 1000-meter race in PyeongChang alongside her other gold victory. 

Training Among the Dutch

As mentioned, it takes a lot of guts and training to achieve what Nao Kodaira achieved in the recent winter Olympics, and to do so, she spent two years living in the Netherlands to train. Before she had participated in the 2018 Olympics, she had failed to win an individual title in her previous attempts, as her 2010 win was a team pursuit, which made those watching her career more interested in her recent string of wins. 

Now unbeaten both in her country and abroad, Kodaira has been bestowed the Dutch nickname “Boze Kat”, which in English, is translated to “Angry Cat” for the way she positions herself when she begins her races, and as she races. Dutch sprint coach Robin Derks has noticed a sizable improvement in Kodaira’s competing method – an edge that she learned during her stay in the Netherlands that boosted her to finally win during the last Olympics.

The secret, Derks thinks, is adding a bit of emotion to the game instead of being methodical and stoic, as he finds most Japanese contestants are. It was in the Netherlands, he says, that he saw Kodaira develop her cat-like stance and inspire a sense of rage or anger in her to give her that extra kick, oomph, an edge over competitors in each race. 

Living in the Netherland seems to have taught Kodaira simple tips and tricks to add to her training regiment and thinking style as compared to her old, presumably blander way of training. Understanding things such as nutrition hacks and the importance of the intensity of certain workouts help tremendously, whereas before, they would not have known that it would contribute so much to the winning process. It helps that there are many experienced speed skaters in the Netherlands whom she could have learned from or could have helped her along her training process.

Tough Competition: Introducing Lee Sang-Hwa and Miho Takagi 

Although Nao Kodaira is currently on top of her game, there are two-speed skaters who are keen on outdoing her. These women are South Korean Lee Sang-Hwa, and Japanese-born Miho Takagi. 

Lee Sang-Hwa, born on Feb 25, 1989, standing at 5 feet 5 inches or 1.65 meters, and weighing 137 lb or 62 kg, has won 20 medals and is a 2-time Winter Olympic champion from her performance in Vancouver in 2010, and in Sochi in 2014. She has also won first place in the World Sprint Championships in 2010, held in Obihiro, as well as 3 gold medals in the World Single Distance Championships – 2012 in Heerenveen, 2013 in Sochi, and 2016 in Kolomna. Her other two gold medals come from her performance in 2007 in Torino and 2009 in Harbin for the Winter Universiade. 

Lee Sang-Hwa was only a first grader when she learned how to skate, taking inspiration from her older sibling, Lee Sang-jun. Despite her brother initially taking the spotlight as a good skater, Lee eventually outshone him and landed her first international competition held in Canada when she was only 14.

As for Miho Takagi, she is much younger than both Lee Sang-Hwa and Nao Kodaira, but she has already caught up in terms of achievements. So far, she has won 16 medals (7 of which are gold), with only one gold medal in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang so far for the team pursuit. She landed the world record along with other skaters Ayano Sato and Nana in the ISU Speed Skating World Cup of 2017 to 2018, which amounted to 2 minutes, 50.87 seconds. She held another record of 2 minutes and 53.89 seconds as she was part of the Nippon team (team pursuit) in the Olympics. 

Friends, Not Foes

Kodaira may seem intimidating because of her stance as she competes, she is, in fact, the opposite. She went to comfort Lee Sang-Hwa, who came second place to her in the recent winter Olympics. Kodaira had stunted the possibility of her Sang-Hwa acquiring her third straight Olympic win. As Lee Sang-Hwa held the Korean flag in her hands, she began to cry, and Kodaira, with the Japanese flag draped around her, humbly consoled Lee Sang-Hwa, telling Sang-Hwa that she respected her.

Although the two have been eyeing each other as tough competitors to watch out for, their ultimate camaraderie illustrated how sportsmanship was a more important value than winning, making sure that you take your win humbly, and promoting friendship and respect for each other. 

By Sk@te [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Recent Interview with Nao Kodaira: Not Feeling Well

Although she was set to participate in the final speedskating World Cup, Nao Kodaira plans to sit this one out due to health problems. This snippet of news was announced by the Japan Skating Federation just last March 2, 2018. Kodaira did not think that she would perform well, and continuous traveling would have made her sicker. 

“I thought it would be impossible to get better with travel overseas”, she has been quoted as saying. She was thus not able to defend her last years’ win, which was set in Calgary, Alberta. 

Find Photos of Nao Kodaira Online

If you’re looking for photos of Nao Kodaira, there are many of them that can be found by simply searching her name on an online search engine. For better quality images, it’s best that you customize your settings to search for photos of Kodaira that have higher resolution/pixels. Most of those are of her in the midst of her competition, while others are of her famous, heartwarming scene of hugging her competitor, Lee Sang-Hwa.