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Speed Skater Miho Takagi Zooms to Two Victories at the World Championships

Two years after collecting four medals, including one gold, at the Beijing Olympics, Miho Takagi won the 1,000- and 1,500-meter world titles in Calgary, Canada.

Some sports rely on guile and finesse along with power to achieve the desired results. But in speed skating, as Miho Takagi demonstrated at the 2024 ISU World Speed Skating Single Distances Championships, it's really only about one thing.

The three-time Japanese Olympian was the fastest woman in two events at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada. Therefore, she won the 1,000 meters on Saturday, February 17 and the 1,500 on Sunday.

Entering the world championships, Takagi was ranked No 1 in both events based on results throughout the 2023-24 ISU World Cup speed skating campaign.

The veteran athlete from Hokkaido Prefecture handled the pressure of being the favorite on back-to-back days in the Canadian province of Alberta, whose largest city, Calgary, hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Takagi was clocked in 1 minute, 12.83 seconds in the 1,000 to claim her first-ever individual gold medal at the world championships. She had previously collected 12 total medals in past years at the world championships, including a trio of gold in the team pursuit event. In March 2023, Takagi finished as the bronze medalist in the 1,000 and the 1,500 at the world championships in the Netherlands.

 

Miho Takagi
Miho Takagi, winner of the women's 1,000 meters on February 17. (KYODO)

Euphoria for Miho Takagi 

The 29-year-old was excited about the victory.

"I could pay back the people supporting me with the gold medal, and it touches my heart," Takagi was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Takagi skated against training partner Mei Han of China in the 1,000. Han was pushed throughout the race and finished in 1:13.27 to secure the silver.

Miho Takagi
Miho Takagi skates in the women's 1,000 meters en route to victory on February 17 at the world championships. (AP/via KYODO)

"I was also happy to skate with [Han]," Takagi, the reigning Olympic champion in the women's 1,000 told reporters, according to an ISU news release. "She did very well and I could follow her at the final backstretch. My skating changed a little because I tried to catch her. I had to adjust my stroke a bit."

After Takagi and Han stepped onto the ice for their assigned start, reigning world champion Jutta Leerdam of the Netherlands had a shot at knocking Takagi from the top spot on the leaderboard. Leerdam completed the first 600 meters in a blistering 44.21 seconds (fastest among the event's 24 participants), with Takagi second at 44.54 seconds. 

But over the final stretch of the race, Leerdam didn't maintain the same speed. She slowed down a bit and earned the bronze in 1:13.28.

As her Dutch rival skated, Takagi was paying close attention to Leerdam. Takagi acknowledged that at the 600-meter mark she thought Leerdam was going to win the race.

"But then her speed was going down," Takagi told reporters, "and before the last corner I already knew that I had it, because we can see the time differences on the scoreboard."

Takagi Shines in the 1,500

Takagi placed second in the 1,500 at the 2022 Beijing Games, followed by the aforementioned bronze-medal result at the 2023 ISU World Speed Skating Single Distances Championships.

A day before she lined up against Han at the Calgary Olympic Oval on Sunday, Takagi reminded everyone of her top focus at the world championships.

"I've been targeting the 1,500 at this competition for the past year," Takagi said, according to Kyodo News.

That focus paid off.

Takagi completed the 1,500 in 1:52.29, the day's fastest time.

Han grabbed the silver in 1:52.72, while Dutch skater Joy Beune was third in 1:52.91. Antoinette Rijpma-de Jong, the 1,500 world champion in 2023, placed fourth.

Miho Takagi
Gold medalist Miho Takagi celebrates her victory in the women's 1,500 on February 18. (KYODO)

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Takagi Says She Felt Lucky to Win the 1,500

"I was happy to win the gold medal, of course," Takagi told reporters. "It's the first time for me to win the 1,500 meters at the world championships. But I wanted to skate under 1:52. 

"I feel like I got away lucky to win the world title, because it's not like at the Olympic Games, when you have one distance each day. Joy Beune skated two distances today," added Takagi, referring to Beune's participation in the women's 5,000, which she won with a personal-best time of 6:47.72.

Although she felt lucky to triumph in the 1,500, Takagi said Johan de Wit, her Dutch coach, reminded her of the significance of what she achieved.

"A gold medal is a gold medal," Takagi said after the race, [and] Johan told me I should be proud of it."

From left, Japan's Ayano Sato, Momoka Horikawa and Miho Takagi pose with their bronze medals after the women's team pursuit event at the world championships on February 16. (KYODO)

Team Effort Pays Off

The team pursuit event relies on the collective skill and teamwork of three skaters. And the Japan women’s squad, consisting of Momoka Horikawa, Ayano Sato and Takagi, showcased their talent in the event on Friday, February 16, placing third overall (2:54.89). Canada was the runner-up in 2:54.03. The Netherlands captured the gold in 2:51.20.

Japan finished with three medals at the world championships, with Takagi skating in all three races.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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