For all intents and purposes, the moment belonged to Nao Kodaira.
The Japanese speedskater had just won a gold medal by setting an Olympic record in the 500m women’s speedskating event on Sunday. Her time of 36.94 seconds had bested a good field including South Korea’s Lee Sang-wha, the two-time defending Olympic champion who earned silver with a time of 37.33 seconds in front of a home crowd wildly cheering her on.
But while no one would have blamed Kodaira for fully enjoying the moment of winning her first Olympic gold medal — and Japan’s second of the 2018 Olympics — she instead turned her immediate attention to making sure Lee was OK.
Overcome by the moment, Lee looked inconsolable as she circled the track after the race.
She wasn’t alone with her emotions for long, however, as Kodaira immediately embraced her.
It was a true Olympic moment and no small thing given that Japan and South Korea have had a complicated relationship over the years.
The progression of pictures is inspiring.
“We have competed against each other for many years,” Kodaira said of the moment, according to The Japan Times. “I really respect her and I really look up to her as a human being and a skater. She is my friend.”
Lee said she appreciated the hug and said her tears came from a place of relief, not sorrow or disappointment.
“It is an honor that I participated in the Olympics held in my country,” Lee said, according to Yonhap News. “And I was relieved a lot as I could brush off the pressure. It was like a present for me, and my eyes were filled with tears. I’ve raced for the Olympics, and it finally finished. That’s why I shed tears.”
Lee also said that she asked Kodaira if she’ll be aiming to race in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing and that she replied she would only race if Lee did too.
Lee posted a picture of the two together on Instagram a short while later.
A post shared by Sang Hwa LEE 이상 (@sanghwazz) on Feb 18, 2018 at 8:46am PST
When it comes to the Olympics, it doesn’t get much better than that.
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