Olympic champion speed skater Kodaira Nao announces October retirement

The PyeongChang 2018 women's 500m gold medallist will bring her career to a close at the Japanese national single distances championship in her native Nagano.

By Shintaro Kano
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Olympic women's 500-metre speed skating champion Kodaira Nao on Tuesday (12 April) announced that she will retire in the fall.

And she is ending her decorated career where it all started - in her home Nagano, at the national single distances championships in October.

"I'm nervous about what I'm about to say", Kodaira, 35, said during a press conference in Nagano. "I, Kodaira Nao, will run the last race of my career this October at the national single distances championships.

"When I thought about how long life is, I didn't want it to be only about speed skating. I felt that now was around the right time. I decided to draw the goal line for myself.

"There are several reasons but I wanted to race one last time while I still can physically. I wanted the last race to be at home in (the Shinshu region)".

The four-time Olympian fell short of the podium at Beijing 2022, finishing 17th in the 500m and 10th in the 1,000m after spraining her right ankle a month before the Games.

Kodaira said she began thinking about calling it quits last summer.

"I always thought Beijing would probably be my last Olympics. I thought it wouldn't be a bad time to take my life into the next phase. I started having conversations about this around the summer last year", she said.

Kodaira Nao cheers up rival and friend Lee Sang-hwa after the 500 metres at PyeongChang 2018.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

A forever lasting moment

Along with her gold, Kodaira also won silver in the 1,000m at PyeongChang 2018. She has another silver in the team pursuit from Vancouver 2010, where she made her Games debut.

Her 500m personal best of 36.47 is the second fastest of all time, and had a phenomenal stretch from 2016 to 2019 in which she rattled off 23 consecutive World Cup victories.

But more than all the accolades, Kodaira perhaps will be best known for orchestrating one of the signature moments in PyeongChang when she consoled then two-time defending champion Lee Sang-hwa after beating the Republic of Korea star for the 500m title.

Fierce rivals on the ice, Kodaira and Lee are close two friends away from the rink. The two caught up in Beijing as athlete and commentator, with Lee breaking down in tears after Kodaira skated the 500m.

Kodaira said she has yet to tell Lee about her retirement in person although is looking forward to a reunion soon.

"I haven't told Sang-hwa but I think she knew Beijing would be it for Nao", Kodaira said. "I'll probably text or email her. When I see her, I hope we can talk about all this.

"For me, Vancouver was about progress, Sochi was about humiliation and PyeongChang was about further progress.

"I still can't find the right word to describe Beijing yet. I'm still reflecting on what this Olympics meant to me".

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