She Grew Up Pursuing Speed Skating
Nao Kodaira was born on May 26, 1986 in Chino, Nagano, Japan. At the present day, she is 31-years-old, is 5 ft 5 in tall and weighs 134 lbs. She wanted to become a speed skater at the age of three after seeing her sisters pursuing the sport.
She is currently based in Matsumoto, Japan, where she attends Shinshu University and is studying Education. Her free time is spent studying the Dutch language and photography. In her long career, she has managed to stay injury-free though 15 months before the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, she damaged a ligament in her leg. She was still able to compete and she still she won a silver medal. In middle school, she sprained her left ankle.
In 2014 and 2015, she famously decided to relocate to the Netherlands, to train under Dutch speed skating coach Marianne Timmer. She wanted to see what it would be like to combine the best of what Japan and the Netherlands had to offer in speed skating. The move was spurred on by her recent failure to win gold at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Nao Kodaira Made History in Pyeongchang
This long-track speed skater made history in Pyeongchang at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in a several different ways. First, at the age of 31-years-old, she became the oldest Japanese athlete to ever win a gold medal.
The record was previously held by ski jumper Masahiko Harada, who won gold in 1998 at the age of 29. In addition, she became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in speed skating, a statistic which seems quite surprising. She won the gold medal in the 500m event. She also competed in the 1000m and 1500m events in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, earning a silver medal in the 1000m and placed 6th in the 1500m.
Aside from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Kodaira earned a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in the Team Pursuit.
Her Net Worth Includes Multiple World Championships
Aside from her impressive showing at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, she has also had a successful World Championship career. In the 2015 World Cup Championships in Heerenveen, she won the bronze medal in the 500m. Then, in 2017, she earned three medals when she won silver at Gangeung in the 1000m, gold at Calgary in the sprint event and gold at Gangeung in the 500m.
In total, she has a combined 25 podiums in World Cup Events. In addition, she's won three Asian Winter Games medals. In 2011, she won bronze at Astana/Almaty in the 1500m, and two gold medals at Sapporo in the 500m and 1000m events.
She is also the current world record holder in the 1000m event which she won in Salt Lake City, in the team print, sprint combined and she holds the Japanese record in the 500m. The previous world record holder in sprint combined was Heather Bergsma of the USA. The previous world record holder of the 1000m was Brittany Bowe of the USA.
In 2017, she became the first Japanese woman to win an individual single distance world title, which she won at the World Single Distance Championships. In 2010, she received the Chino Citizen Honorary Award in Japan. In 2014, she received a Special Achievement Award by the JOC (Japanese Olympic Commitee). In 2016, she received the Excellence Award by the JOC. In 2017, she received the JOC Award. Again in 2017, she received the Chunichi Athletics Award.
She is a Good Sport
Nao Kodaira and fellow speed skater and South Korean local favorite, Lee Sang-Hwa are close competitors, but no one would describe them as bitter rivals. The two are close friends and visit each other at home. In fact, Kodaira often sends Japanese food to Sang-Hwa, because she likes their cuisine.
The two would often talk about how each other would take gold at the upcoming Olympic Games. However, it was Nao Kodaira who came away with the win, and Lee Sang-Hwa who finished right behind in second. Sang-Hwa broke down into tears at the finish of the race, and Kodaira embraced here as they skated around the track.
The images, including the above photo, went viral as a sign of the true spirit of the Olympic Games and there can still be sportsmanship when the competition and stakes are so high.
The Skater Has a Large Social Media Following
The gold medal and silver medal winning speed skater can be found on Instagram @nao.kodaira, though her Instagram is not kept up to date. Her last posting was December 1, 2017. The above photo shows an example of her Instagram posts. Even though she is not terribly active on Instagram, she has over 11k followers. She is very active on Twitter, however, and regularly posts about her daily life and skating career. She can be found @ Nao_kodaira and she has over 44k followers.