Photo/IllutrationNao Kodaira, left, and Lee Sang-hwa stand together at the ceremony following the women's 500-meter speedskating sprint at the Pyeongchang Olympic arena in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 18. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

As Japanese speed skater Nao Kodaira glided slowly on the ice upon completing her 500-meter sprint at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the arena erupted in a thunderous cheer.

But Kodaira put her index finger to her lips, as if to say, "Please be quiet, everyone. The next race is starting soon."

A photo of Kodaira striking this pose accompanied an article in the South Korean daily the Chosun Ilbo.

South Korea's Lee Sang-Hwa, who was to skate in the next race, was a two-time Olympic champion aiming for her third gold. Kodaira's gesture could be interpreted as a gracious show of consideration for Lee, according to the article.

Kodaira ended up winning. When Lee looked as if she was going to burst into tears, Kodaira hugged her. This gesture, too, was reported most favorably by the South Korean media.

Kodaira and Lee have become friends after competing in many international events. Lee said, "(Kodaira) once visited me at my home in South Korea. And whenever I go to Japan, she takes wonderful care of me. She is my very special friend."

Lee also mentioned that the pair always "run together," in a manner of speaking.

The word "rival" is derived from the Latin "rivalis" (or "rivales" in plural, which meant "two persons living on the opposite banks of the same stream using the water.")

Kodaira and Lee are more like two people living in the same stream.

When rivals compete at the pinnacle of any sport, I doubt very much that they have only the kindest and noblest thoughts for one another. Rather, feelings of intense combativeness and jealousy often exist. And if the event is international, it takes on the element of "my country versus theirs."

This is precisely why we are moved deeply when there is evidence of a true personal bond between rivals.

Just the other day, we saw figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu hug his Spanish rival. The two reportedly trained under the same coach.

We wish for friends whom we can compete with and yet also encourage and respect, and we hope for the same back. And this, of course, goes beyond the realm of competitive sports.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.