February 10, 1998
Speed skater Shimizu wins Japan's first Olympic gold
Keiichi Suzuki could not do it. Akira Kuroiwa came up short. Hiroyasu Shimizu, however, broke through.
Shimizu landed Japan's first gold medal of the Nagano Olympics on Tuesday as well as the country's first-ever gold in the sport with an inspiring two-race performance in the men's 500-meter speed skating event.
The current world record holder posted the fastest times in both races -- 35.76 seconds Monday and an Olympic record of 35.59 Tuesday -- and crushed the opposition with a composite time of 1 minute, 11.35 seconds.
Canada's Jeremy Wotherspoon overcame a flawed race the previous day by posting the second fastest clocking of 35.80 seconds Tuesday and grabbed the silver in 1:11.84 -- a huge 0.49 second behind Shimizu. He was seventh in the standing after the first leg Monday.
Kevin Overland had balance problems around both curves yet still completed a 2-3 Canadian finish with a two-race total of 1:11.86, skating 36.08 Tuesday.
Moments after crossing the finish line, with an Olympic record time under his belt for the second straight day, Shimizu let loose with a fury of emotion before an equally enthralled capacity crowd at the M-Wave Olympic indoor oval in Nagano, central Japan.
He thrust both arms high in the air and broke into tears. After hugging his coaches, the 23-year-old Hokkaido native did a couple victory laps around the 400-meter track with a pair of large Japanese flags in his hands as Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Princess Masako clapped and smiled from the stands.
''It was a really long, long two days,'' said Shimizu, who held a lead of just 0.02 second after Monday's races. ''Sure, I was conscious of getting the gold medal before the race, but I saw how excited the crowd was and that helped me concentrate.''
''I actually cried yesterday,'' he said. ''I was imagining myself winning the gold medal over and over in my head, trying to get a mental image.''
Like Monday's race, Shimizu erupted at the start, posting the day's fastest 100-meter split-time of 9.54 seconds. It also showed that the slap skates, originally thought to be unstable in the sprint distances, were in fact effective.
The final time was 0.20 second off his two-year-old world record of 35.39 set at the Calgary Olympic Oval in Canada, but it did not matter. Shimizu powered hard down the back straight and hugged the final curve tightly before skating into history.
''I really thought I skated well,'' he said.
The Canadians, who had dominated the World Cup circuit so far this season, managed to occupy second through fifth places.
Japan's Manabu Horii, bronze medalist in this event at the Lillehammer Olympics, posted a two-race time of 1:12.78 to finish 13th while compatriot Hiroaki Yamakage was 15th and Toshiyuki Kuroiwa 16th.
Four race pairings before Shimizu's epic victory, the crowd gasped when Norway's Grunde Njos slipped to the ice around the final bend, causing race partner Erben Wennemars to also hit the ice and land hard on his elbow and into the padded wall.
The Dutch skater had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and he was unable to race a second time. Wennemars was given a reasonable chance to win a medal, standing in fifth place before Tuesday's races.
Shimizu's victory was not only a boost for the host nation four days into the 16-day Nagano Games, but served up proof that Japanese skaters can indeed perform under pressure.
At the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, northern Japan, heavy medal expectations were placed on Japanese sprinter Keiichi Suzuki, then the men's 500-meter world record holder. He finished eighth.
Twelve years later at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games, the spotlight focused on Akira Kuroiwa, who went into the men's 500 meters as the reigning world sprint champion. He finished 10th, while his unheralded teammate Yoshihiro Kitazawa won the silver.
Four years later, however, Kuroiwa returned to the Olympic rink in Calgary and captured the 500-meter bronze. He helped extend a streak of Japanese skaters winning at least one medal in the event since the 1984 Olympics.
And on Tuesday, Shimizu kept the streak alive. (Kyodo News)
Final results of speed skating men's 500 meters Tuesday in the 18th Olympic Winter Games at M-Wave indoor oval, Nagano:
1. Hiroyasu Shimizu, Japan 1 minute, 11.35 seconds (first run 35.76, second run 35.59 Olympic record)
2. Jeremy Wotherspoon, Canada 1:11.84 (36.04, 35.80)
3. Kevin Overland, Canada 1:11.86 (35.78, 36.08)
4. Sylvain Bouchard, Canada 1:12.00 (35.90, 36.10)
5. Patrick Bouchard, Canada 1:12.05 (35.96, 36.09)
6. Casey FitzRandolph, U.S. 1:12.20 (35.81, 36.39)
7. Kim Yoon Man, South Korea 1:12.36 (36.13, 36.23)
8. Lee Kyu Hyuk, South Korea 1:12.55 (36.14, 36.41)
9. Ermanno Ioriatti, Italy 1:12.66 (36.30, 36.36)
10. Roger Strom, Norway 1:12.68 (36.53, 36.15)
13. Manabu Horii, Japan 1:12.78 (36.37, 36.41)
15. Hiroaki Yamakage, Japan 1:12.91 (36.61, 36.30)
16. Jaegal Sung Yeol, South Korea 1:12.97 (36.58, 36.39)
16. Toshiyuki Kuroiwa, Japan 1:12.97 (36.37, 36.60)
24. Vadim Shakshakbayev, Kazakstan 1:13.44 (36.87, 36.57)
27. Li Yu, China 1:13.58 (36.79, 36.79)
28. Liu Hongbo, China 1:13.72 (36.77, 36.95)
31. Dai Dengwen, China 1:13.98 (37.03, 36.95)
32. Vladimir Klepinin, Kazakstan 1:14.14 (37.22, 36.92)
34. Kim Jin Soo, South Korea 1:14.32 (37.19, 37.13)
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Copyright 1999 The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun