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2008 Olympic Games - Beijing - Women's Marathon IAAF Preview
by Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Just before the gun sounds off the start of the women's Marathon on 17 August, an intriguing reunion will take place.
The entire podium trio from the Athens Olympics - reigning champion Mizuki Noguchi of Japan, Kenyan Catherine Ndereba the silver medallist, and American Deena Kastor who finished third – will have already wished each other luck as they embark on a nearly unprecedented attempt at earning another Olympic medal.
Since the event was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1984, only one woman, Portugal's Rosa Mota, has managed to win back-to-back medals with bronze in Los Angeles and gold in Seoul.
Yet all eyes will be on another Marathon great who only this week confirmed her position on the start line. Paula Radcliffe, the World record holder (2:15:25) and arguably one of the finest marathoners in history, will be chasing the one prize that is yet missing from her massive collection of accolades.
As a heavy favourite in the dramatic contest in Athens four years ago, Radcliffe failed to finish the race, forced to drop out in tears at the 36Km marker. But she bounced back quickly just two months later to win the New York City Marathon and the following spring illustrated that as a marathoner she remained unparalleled after a 2:17:42 victory in London. In August of 2005, she won her first World title at the Marathon, winning in Helsinki in 2:20:57 before taking maternity leave. She returned to action last autumn, winning again in New York in 2:23:09, a solid performance considering the difficulty of the course. She hasn't contested a marathon since, but insists she's made considerable progress from a recent stress fracture.
Noguchi brings solid credentials to her title defence. The 30-year-old followed up her Olympic triumph by lowering the Area record to 2:19:12 in Berlin in 2005 and she won her most recent Marathon outing, clocking 2:21:37 in Tokyo last November.
Since her Athens silver Ndereba has continued to add to her prolifically successful road running legacy. The 36-year-old took her second World title in Osaka last year and always remains a threat.
Kastor has continued to improve since her bronze four years ago. Now 35, the American followed up with a fast victory in Chicago in 2005 before lowering her own national record to 2:19:36 in London 2006, and was a comfortable winner at the U.S. trials in April.
But there are several others who will be intent on spoiling that 2004 podium reunion. Over the last few years, Ethiopians Gete Wami and Berhane Adere have entered the fray to become very serious threats. Wami emerged in 2006 with a 2:21:34 victory in 2006, and went on to win the 2006-07 World Marathon Majors title. Last year she won in Berlin again, and finished second at both London and New York. Adere won back-to-back titles in Chicago in 2006 and 2007, running 2:20:42 at the former. More recently, she won in Dubai, clocking 2:22:42 but faded to seventh in London last April.
Others to watch include Japan's Reiko Tosa, the bronze medallist last year in Osaka; Russian Galina Bogomolova, the runner-up at Chicago (2:20:47 NR) in 2006 and this year's winner in Rome (2:22:53); and another Russian, Svetlana Zakharova (2:21:31PB, 2001) who at 38 showed she is still very much a contender after a runner-up showing in London this year; and Kenyan No. 2, Salina Kosgei, a consistent 2:23 performer and fourth place finisher in London this year.