Olympics-Speed skating-Russians Golikova, Fatkulina out to end Kodaira's reign in 500m

By Sakura Murakami

BEIJING (Reuters) - Russian speed skaters have yet to win a medal of any colour at the Beijing Olympics but world champion Angelina Golikova and Sochi silver medallist Olga Fatkulina have gold in their sights in the women's 500 metres on Sunday.

The last time a Russian skater won the event was 16 years ago when Svetlana Zhurova took gold at the Turin Winter Games.

Golikova holds the season's best time of 36.66 seconds, while Fatkulina holds the second best - 0.06 seconds behind - with 36.72.

Golikova has said the key to success was winning the battle within.

"Every person is his own rival," she told Russian media last year. "When you overcome yourself, if you do everything perfectly, there will be first place."

Fatkulina was one of 42 Russian athletes sanctioned in 2017 for alleged doping at the Sochi Winter Games. She received a lifetime ban and had her silver medal revoked.

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually found the case against her did not have sufficient evidence. While the ban was lifted and her medal reinstated she could not compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Fatkulina, the Russian Olympic Committee team's flag bearer at the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, told China's Xinhua that she wanted to give a boost to the sport back home.

"I wanted to show my ability to get a good place at Beijing 2022 and I want to give a new motivation for young Russian skaters," she said.

Japan's defending Olympic champion Nao Kodaira will not give up her title without a fight, however. Kodaira has the season's third best time - 36.76 - and holds the Olympic record from her race in Pyeongchang.

She could become the first Japanese skater to win two individual speed skating gold medals but rather than feeling the pressure she is savouring the atmosphere ahead of her title defence.

"I kind of feel excited. The air here feels almost sacred, something special to the Olympics," she told Japanese media after training at the newly built National Speed Skating Oval last week.

Of the other medal contenders, Erin Jackson of the United States is also in the mix. The 29-year-old finished 24th in Pyeongchang but currently stands at the top of the world rankings ahead of Golikova.

She almost missed the opportunity to represent the United States after a stumble during the Olympic trials but her team mate Brittany Bowe gave her spot in the 500m race to Jackson.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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