Kodaira Nao of Japan (left) and Lee Sang-hwa of Korea, who finished in first and second places in the ladies’ 500-meter speed skating event at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games on Feb. 21, exchange words of encouragement after the race.

“This silver medal looks even more brilliant!”

Lee Sang-hwa beamed with joy as the silver medal hung around her neck after she took second place in the ladies’ 500-meter speed skating race at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games.

Three days into the Winter Asian Games on Feb. 21, the Korean speed skater was bested by Kodaira Nao of Japan after a neck-and-neck race at the Obihiro Forest Speed Skating Oval in Obihiro, Japan. The Japanese skater was behind Lee in the final corner and finished only 0.31 seconds ahead, winning the gold medal. 


Lee Sang-hwa of Korea (left) and Kodaira Nao of Japan smile amiably during the awards ceremony after they took the second and first places, respectively, in the ladies’ 500-meter speed skating race at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games.

Lee has been an outstanding figure in the 500-meter speed skating event since she set a world record of 36.36 seconds in 2013. The record remains unbroken. Since she injured her right thigh, however, she’s given way to rising stars. The Japanese athlete has emerged as Lee’s archrival, as she has won six consecutive races in the 2016-2017 season, putting herself at the top of the world rankings. 

Lee, who lost a gold medal to her in Sapporo this time, kept a smile across her face as she said, “Every defending champion would always feel worried that other competitors would catch up. Now that I'm in second place, I'm out of that worry and feel much more at ease. It feels good that I achieved better results today than in other races in which I’ve taken part this year. The silver medal looks prettier.” 

Nonetheless, Lee expressed her firm determination that she would redeem herself at next year’s PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on home ice. “I think I went overboard, pushing myself too hard after the final curve in this race. I'll make up for my week points in the remaining time leading up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games next year. Only if I maintain trust in myself and self-confidence will things work out well, I'm sure.”