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Lightning Strikes Again for Nana Takagi in Mass Start Speed Skating

The defending champion suffered a fall at the turn that haunted her in the team pursuit earlier in the week.

Japan's Nana Takagi falls during the women's speed skating mass start semifinals at the Beijing Olympics, on February 19. (Ashley Landis/AP)

Disaster struck again for Japan’s Nana Takagi in the women’s mass start speed skating race on Saturday, February 19, the last day of competition in the event at the Beijing Olympics.

Takagi, the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s mass start, was on her way to qualifying for the final when she suddenly lost her footing on the final curve in the semifinals and failed to reach the final at the National Speed Skating Oval.

It was the exact same curve where she tumbled in the team pursuit on Tuesday, costing her team the gold medal which was won by Canada.

There was no contact with any other skaters at the time of her fall on Saturday, prompting an NHK announcer to call it a “cruel trick of the skating gods.”

“I’ll try to take this difficult experience and learn from it so that I can become a stronger skater in the future,” Takagi said.

Irene Schouten of the Netherlands surged ahead of Canada’s Ivanie Blondin with just 20 meters to go to clock a time of 8 minutes, 14.73 seconds and claim her third gold medal of the Games.

Blondin won the silver, while Francesca Lollobrigida of Italy took the bronze.

Schouten previously won the women’s 3,000 and 5,000 events plus a bronze medal in the women’s team pursuit.

Ayano Sato of Japan did qualify for the final and finished eighth, one place ahead of Claudia Pechstein, the 49-year-old veteran from Germany.

Takagi, sister Miho and Ayano Sato won the team pursuit gold medal four years ago at the Pyeongchang Games and were the favorites to repeat before Nana Takagi’s unfortunate fall.

What made that fall all the more painful was the fact that Japan led Canada at every split and looked on course for a new Olympic record.

Saturday’s mishap was only slightly less cruel in that it took place in the semifinals.

As difficult as the Games have been for Nana Takagi, her sister Miho is at the other end of the spectrum, having won three silvers and a gold medal.

After winning gold in the women’s 1,000 meters on Thursday, Miho Takagi now has seven career Olympic medals, four more than any other Japanese athlete at the Winter Games.

Belgium’s Swings Grabs Men’s Gold

Bart Swings of Belgium surged ahead of South Koreans Jae Won Chung and Seung Hoon Lee to win gold in the men’s mass start in 7:47.11.

It was Belgium’s first gold of the Winter Olympics since 1948.

Lee was ahead at the last turn when Swings moved to the outside and made a powerful surge into the lead. 

Lee edged out American Joey Mantia by one-thousandth of a second.

Japan’s Ryosuke Tsuchiya was sixth, while compatriot Seitaro Ichinohe was eighth.

Dutch legend Sven Kramer finished 16th of 16 and will leave Beijing without a medal.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.

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