SOCHI (Reuters) - Speed skaters Joji Kato and Keiichiro Nagashima are once again eyeing 500 meters Olympic gold and Japanese fans are hoping it will not be another double disappointment.
Four years ago in Vancouver, Nagashima claimed 500m silver, while Kato had to settle for bronze as South Korean Mo Tae-bum skated his way to surprise glory.
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Kato, a world champion and world record holder at 20, said on Wednesday his experience and varied training methods had left him feeling immensely confident of standing on top of the podium in Sochi.
“I haven’t won gold medals at an Olympic Games yet so this is my greatest goal to win a gold medal this time,” the 28-year-old told reporters through an interpreter.
”For many years I tried different ways of training and of course I have a lot of experience which I would like to use here in at the Olympics.
“If we speak about my confidence, I feel that this will be the event that I will be able to win and I cannot be wrong with this spirit.”
A victory in a World Cup race in Salt Lake City in November has boosted his confidence although Nagashima remains the leading Japanese light over the distance this year.
The playful 31-year-old, laughing and joking with team mates through the news conference, has enjoyed a late renaissance in his career and has two World Cup wins, one coming four days after Kato’s and another in Astana the following month.
“My objective is gold,” Nagashima explained.
”I hope I will make it, my feeling is, as always, quite good. I will keep working with all my might.
“I have confidence - 100 percent confidence.”
Kato and Nagashima are just two of a number of contenders in the shortest men’s race which gets under way on Monday with Mo a slight favorite to retain his title, although the Dutch trio of Michel Mulder, Jan Smeekens and Ronald Mulder are also in the gold medal hunt.
While Nagashima said he was ready for competition, Kato revealed some concerns about fitness.
“My current state is not perfect yet,” he said.
“I‘m in the middle of preparation and I hope that by the time of competition I will regain my full strength and my feeling will go up. I hope everything will go well.”
Japan’s sole gold medal in speed skating came at their home Nagano Olympics in 1998 via Hiroyasu Shimizu.
Coach Tadao Ishihata said the aim for his men’s and women’s teams was to have three more Olympic champions.
“After the Vancouver competition, one of our goals was to win three medals and of course we want to win gold,” he said.
“One of the things we would like to achieve is a golden medal and of course it would be great to win three gold medals, this is our goal.”
Editing by Gene Cherry