GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Japanese speed skater Nana Takagi unleashed a late surge of explosive speed to pass Dutchwoman Irene Schouten on the inside of the final corner and claim an Olympic gold medal in the women’s mass start at the Gangneung Oval on Saturday.
South Korean Kim Bo-reum slipped into the channel created by Takagi to win the silver medal 0.12 seconds behind the Japanese as Schouten settled for bronze.
Takagi, who won gold in the women’s team pursuit earlier this week, now has an individual Olympic title to add to her collection.
The 25-year-old celebrated by pumping her fists and waving to the crowd before making a lap of the stadium with the Japanese flag fluttering above her head.
“I‘m feeling very good,” Takagi told reporters. “Only lost focus on two laps, then I showed good acceleration. Then with 100 meters –- go. I‘m very happy. I focus on team pursuit and mass start.”
The race made its Olympic debut in South Korea and was given a touch of celebrity by the presence of Ivanka Trump, daughter of the U.S. President.
It was a tactical encounter, with 16 skaters simultaneously vying for an advantage on the track.
None of the trio who finished on the podium tried to win any of the three intermediate sprints, preferring instead to stay well back in the peloton and save their legs for the final push for a medal.
The first three to finish the race earn 60, 40 and 20 points respectively, while the top three skaters in each of the intermediate sprints earn five, three and one points to decide the classification places.
With two laps to go in the 16-lap race, the pack began to pick up speed, rapidly reeling in early pace-setter Saskia Alusalu of Estonia, who finished in fourth place after winning all three intermediate sprints.
Schouten had the lead going into the final corner but the Dutch skater misjudged her line slightly and was forced wide coming out, and Takagi stormed up the inside channel to capitalize on the mistake.
She crossed the line in a flurry of effort, her arms and legs pumping furiously to hold off Kim by a narrow margin.
Kim was crestfallen after finishing second. She made a deep bow to the crowd and took a lap around the track waving her country’s flag.
Kim and her team mate in the women’s team pursuit, Park Ji-woo, faced calls for them to be banned from the national team after they appeared to blame a team mate for their failure to reach the women’s team pursuit semi-finals this week.
“Because of me, it became controversial and I felt so sorry to everybody and so I bowed before the crowd,” Kim said.
Additional reporting by Jane Chung; editing by Clare Fallon