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Miho Takagi (JPN) ISU Speed Skating World Cup 2022 Calgary (CAN) GettyImages 1245715876

Miho Takagi (JPN) celebrates during the ISU Speed Skating World Cup 2022 in Calgary (CAN) @ISU

After the first half of the Speed Skating season, Miho Takagi (JPN) comfortably leads the Women’s 1500m World Cup ranking. Collecting silverware on the ice may seem to be business as usual for the Japanese superstar, but Takagi seriously contemplated hanging up her blades after winning three Olympic silvers and a gold in Beijing (CHN) last season.

She eventually decided to go on, but chose a different path, leaving the Japanese national squad to team up with former Japan national coach Johan de Wit (NED) as her private trainer.

Johan De Witt (NED)  ISU World Cup Speed Skating 2017  Heerenveen (NED) GettyImages 873287644

Johan De Witt (NED) pictured during the 2017 ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Heerenveen (NED) @ISU

Beijing redemption

The Olympic Games in Beijing 2022 marked the jewel in the crown of Takagi’s already impressive list of honors. She has been part of the international Speed Skating circuit for ages, making her Olympic debut at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver (CAN) at age 15. Takagi finished 35th in the Women's 1000m and 23rd in the 1500m.

Miho Takagi (JPN) ISU World Cup Speed Skating 2022 Heerenveen (NED) ISU 1443025913

Miho Takagi (JPN) skates during the  ISU World Cup Speed Skating 2022 in Heerenveen (NED) @ISU

Despite her early debut, it took the talented skater from Obihiro (JPN) a couple of years to win international silverware at senior level. Takagi surprisingly missed out on the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi (RUS), only to take her first World Championships title together with sister Nana Takagi and Ayaka Kikuchi in the Team Pursuit in 2015.

Under national manager Johan de Wit, the Japanese women dominated the Team Pursuit event for years, with the 2018 Olympic title in PyeongChang (KOR) as a climax. While sister Nana also won individual gold in the Mass start, Miho left PyeongChang without an individual Olympic title.

Miho Takagi (JPN) and Coach Johan de Wit Olympic Winter Games 2022 Pyeongchang (KOR) GettyImages 918122956

Miho Takagi (JPN) and Coach Johan de Wit pictured during the Olympic Winter Games 2018 in Pyeongchang (KOR) @GettyImages

A few weeks after the PyeongChang Games, Takagi won the World Allround title in Amsterdam (NED), and she kept her winning ways, adding the World Sprint title in 2020, multiple World Cup medals in all colors and the 1500m world record in 1:49.83 in 2019 in Salt Lake City (USA).

In Beijing, Takagi took on five different events, and after winning silver medals in the 1500m, the 500m and the Team Pursuit and placing 6th in the 3000m, she found redemption in her last attempt for gold on the penultimate day of the Games, winning the 1000m.

Miho Takagi (JPN) and Coach Johan de Wit Olympic Winter Games 2022 Beijing (CHN) GettyImages 1238553190

Miho Takagi (JPN) and Coach Johan de Wit pose during the Olympic Winter Games 2022 in Beijing (CHN) @GettyImages

Special bond

With seven medals in total, Takagi is the most decorated Japanese female Olympian, Summer and Winter combined. After Beijing she took some time to think about her next steps. Sister Nana, two years Miho’s senior, decided to call it quits and the Japanese federation decided to part ways with national coach Johan de Wit.

“She [Miho] always delivers, and mentally that’s so tough,” De Wit says. “After the Beijing Olympics, she was just done for a while. Not winning gold, keeps you hungry, but now she just needed a bit more time.”

Eventually Miho decided to call De Wit.

“She didn’t want to continue in the national team, because she wanted to go on with me,” De Wit continues. “We have a special bond and you don’t give no for an answer to someone this special."

“She’s so incredibly good. I cannot really make a big difference as a coach. To be successful with her, is so much easier than to be successful with anyone else.”

Small team

Takagi and De Wit form a tandem. Occasionally accompanied by human movement scientist Jeroen Rietvelt, De Wit is the sole coach of a one-woman team. They train in Japan, but also in the Netherlands, to give De Wit the opportunity to spend time with his wife and two sons (2 and 5 years old).

Skating coach Johan de Wit  Speed Skating World Cup 2022  (NED) Heerenveen (NED) GettyImages 1239159094

Coach Johan de Wit with his children during the ISU World Cup 2022 in Heerenveen (NED) @ISU

“As national manager in Japan, I had so much on my mind, many different skaters and the coaching staff. Now it’s just the two of us."

“Miho deals with everything, her sponsors and the federation. I told her I want to take away from her as much as I can, so I sharpen her blades and I’m her personal driver, so she can relax a little. We are a good team.”

Yet, both Miho herself and Johan de Wit hope to extend the team next season.

“It’s tough when it’s just us two travelling around the world for races, staying in hotels for weeks. We get along very well, but sometimes Miho makes a gesture just to leave it be. I try to help as much as I can, but sometimes it can be a bit too much.

“It would be good to have more skaters in the team, but we would need sponsors to make it happen, and that takes a lot of time, especially in Japan. Miho has private sponsors and you have to be careful with conflicts of interest. We still hope that we will be able to make a deal with one main sponsor for the future.

“But we’ll have to make some progress. If there’s still no sponsor by April or May, there will be an end to this road.”

All-time best

Whatever the future may hold in store, this season Takagi set her sights on the World Championships in Heerenveen (NED) in March. Although her focus will be the 1500m, she will skate as many other events as possible.

After four of six World Cup events this season, Takagi is ranked 12th in the 500m, 2nd in the 1000m, 1st in the 1500m. She also skated one 3000m race and at the second of two back-to-back World Cups in Calgary (CAN) she even took on the 5000m.

Miho Takagi (JPN) ISU Speed Skating World Cup 2022 Calgary (CAN) ISU 1245686105

Antoinette de Jong (NED), Miho Takagi (JPN) and Nadezhda Morozova (KAZ) pose during the ISU Speed Skating World Cup 2022 in Calgary (CAN) @ISU

Takagi had set her sights on the Adelskalendern, the all-time ranking in which skaters are classified by their personal bests in the four Allround distances (for Women: 500m, 1500m, 3000m, 5000m).

To climb to the top of this prestigious all-time ranking, she had to skate 6:55.87, but Takagi finished in 7:00.08, a personal best but not enough for the Adelskalendern. Cindy Klassen (CAN), who retired in 2015, therefore still leads the Adelskalendern with 154,560 points.

Takagi remains second, but she came a little closer, bringing her total down to 154,980 points. This season, she will not get another chance in the 5000m, but the Adelskalendern may keep her hungry.