Photo/IllutrationFrom left: Ayaka Kikuchi, Ayano Sato, Miho Takagi and Nana Takagi celebrate after winning the gold medal in the women's team pursuit at the Gangneung Oval on Feb. 21. (Reina Kitamura)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A sibling rivalry had been brewing for years between the speedskating sisters of the Takagi family. But when the skills of Nana, 25, and Miho, 23, were combined for the first time at an Olympics, something magical happened.

The Takagi sisters and teammate Ayano Sato won the gold medal in the women’s team pursuit on Feb. 21 by blasting past the Netherlands in the final laps.

The Japanese team’s time of 2 minutes, 53.89 seconds was not only an Olympic record, but it also gave Japan its 11th overall medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the nation’s highest total for a Winter Games.

Nana and Miho have been skating together since they were in elementary school in Obihiro, Hokkaido. They took up the sport after their older brother, Daisuke, 27, started when he was a first-grader, inspired by the performances at the Nagano Winter Olympics 20 years ago.

But various factors had prevented the sisters from participating together in the same Winter Games.

The younger Miho was the first to take part in a Winter Olympics, skating in the 2010 Vancouver Games when she was a junior high school student.

However, Miho failed to make the team for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and she could only watch TV broadcasts of Nana competing in the speedskating events.

Those who know the two sisters say they have totally different personalities.

Nana has always hated to lose, so she was anguished when Miho was the first to appear in a Winter Olympics.

The sisters also played soccer in summer, but even there, Nana would never admit that Miho was the better ball handler.

In her childhood, Miho did not care that much about her results, as long as she was satisfied with her efforts. She often expressed joy when she thought her form was close to her ideal, even though she may not have won anything.

But as the two continued with their athletic careers after graduating from senior high school, they gradually began to take on traits of the other.

Nana became less concerned about winning, especially after she learned from and practiced with some of the top skaters in the world.

“I am grateful to be able to take part in the team along with my younger sister and to be accepted as an athlete who can be depended upon,” Nana said recently.

Miho, meanwhile, has increasingly expressed anguish when others have beaten her.

She was particularly bitter after a race in December when she skated alongside Nao Kodaira, who won the event in world record time. Kodaira took the gold medal in the 500-meter race and the silver in the 1,000 meters at Pyeongchang.

Miho won the silver in the 1,500-meter race and bronze in the 1,000 meters. Now, she has a gold medal to complete the set.

After the race, Daisuke said, “I was able to see 100-percent smiles from both of my sisters.”

Their father, Yoshinori, 61, also had nothing but praise for his daughters.

“They have given me courage by winning the gold medal through their combined efforts,” he said in the stands at Gangneung Oval while waving to his daughters.