Speed skating-Canada win team pursuit as slip costs Japan

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BEIJING, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Canada won gold in the women's speed skating team pursuit, taking advantage of a mishap by the Japanese defending champions at the Beijing Olympics on Tuesday.

Japan started strongly and kept a steady half-second lead over their Canadian rivals but a slip by Nana Takagi, who was third in the train as they looked to be coasting towards a gold medal with the finish line in sight, cost them their title.

She lost her balance as the team sped around the last corner and banged into the trackside wall, prompting a collective gasp among spectators at the National Speed Skating Oval.

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"I think we're all dealing with our own emotions, but we're definitely frustrated that we couldn't win the gold medal," Nana's sister and team mate Miho Takagi told reporters.

"It's hard to evaluate our performance because unfortunately our race ended with a fall, but I don't regret everything we've done to get here," she said, trying to hold back tears.

After the race, she hugged Nana, who wept.

"When I took the lead position, I was skating really well," Nana said. "I thought I could hand off (the lead position) to my sister after skating what I thought were my very best laps out of the three races we had done so far, but then..." she added, her voice trailing off.

"It's very difficult to talk right now, I can't think very clearly," said Nana.

The team slowed as they realised Nana had fallen, raising their hands in despair before crossing the finish line 11 seconds behind the Canadians, who finished the race in an Olympic record time of two minutes 53.44 seconds.

Nana could be seen putting her hands together in apology towards her compatriots as tears streamed down her face after the race. She looked sombre with her team mates on the podium.

Canada were left to celebrate their country's first gold medal in the event, and their first podium finish since the country won silver at Turin 2006.

"We are still thinking, is this real?" said Isabelle Weidemann, who won bronze in the women's 3,000m and silver in the 5,000m in Beijing.

"We knew we had a strong team, we knew we could put pressure on Japan and all the other strong teams today. I don't know if we'd thought about this possible outcome.

"It's always sad to see another team fall. They have fought so well all season," she said of the Japan team's misfortune.

The fancied Netherlands team, who counted gold medallists Irene Schouten and Ireen Wust in their ranks, took bronze after crashing out in their semi-final against Canada.

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Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Shri Navaratnam/Kevin Liffey/Ken Ferris

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