Photo/IllutrationNao Kodaira and Lee Sang-hwa congratulate each other after the 500-meter race on Feb. 18 at the Gangneung Oval. (Taku Hosokawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SEOUL--South Korean media found something perhaps more precious than gold for their Olympic coverage: the friendship that has developed between long-time speedskating rivals Lee Sang-hwa and Nao Kodaira.

Media here had devoted huge space for the results of the women’s 500-meter race at Gangneung Oval on Feb. 18 on expectations that local hero Lee would collect a record-tying third gold medal in the event.

However, one of the main pictures they used after the event was of Kodaira hugging a crying Lee at the conclusion of her race when it became clear she would not beat her Japanese rival.

Touching upon their friendship, the Yonhap News Agency reported that the two “left behind a beautiful finale.”

In its special Olympic pages, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper used remarks exchanged between the gold and silver medalists as its headline for one story.

Kodaira told Lee that she respected her as a rival skater. Lee congratulated Kodaira for being such a good sport. The article was accompanied by a large photo of the two skaters carrying their respective national flags.

The Hankyoreh newspaper published a large photo of Kodaira hugging a tearful Lee. An accompanying article said the two skaters expressed how proud they were of each other and explained that Lee also said she learned a lot from Kodaira.

“The fact that Kodaira was able to pass Lee is evidence of the gut-wrenching efforts she had to make,” the writer of the article added.

At a Feb. 18 news conference after the race, the two revealed how they had become friends during their years of rivalry on the ice.

Kodaira explained that after she won a World Cup race in Seoul a few years ago, Lee called a taxi to take Kodaira to the airport. Lee even paid the fare.

“She is a friend I can respect both as a person and as an athlete,” Kodaira said.

Lee also called Kodaira a good friend and said: “She always looks after me whenever I am in Japan. She gives me presents and sends me Japanese food.”

(This article was written by Hajimu Takeda and Senior Staff Writer Kosuke Inagaki.)