Athens Olympics 2004 - Women's Marathon Report
Women's Olympic Marathon Starting List
Post-Race Interviews and Quotes
Four years after Japan won Olympic Gold in the women's marathon, they did it again. Many have debated the Japanese Olympic Committee's decision not to send Naoko Takahashi to Athens to defend her 2000 Olympic Marathon title, but none can question the decision to send Mizuki Noguchi to Athens. After Paula Radcliffe set the initial pace and the leading pack went down to eight runners, it was Noguchi who made her move and broke away from the other runners into the steep hills of the Athens course followed only by Elfanesh Alemu. In the end, the effort on the breakaway proved too much for Alemu who faded to fourth place, but for Noguchi it was the perfect strategy as she built a lead of over a minute at the top of the hill which was enough to give her the cushion she needed to hold on for the gold. After Radcliffe developed problems and dropped out at the 36K mark, a hard charging Ndereba continued to move forward and perhaps would have caught Noguchi if the course were a mile longer - but as the marathon distance is 26.2 miles, Ndereba settled for a well-earned silver medal.
Deena Kastor proved that the marathon is an individual test as she ignored the lead pack from the beginning and ran her own race. More than two minutes behind and as far back as 18th place, Kastor put on her moves in the second half of the marathon and picked off runners one by one to advance into third position and take the bronze medal. Respecting the heat, understanding the course, knowing what she could do and sticking to her race plan - we give the gold medal for smartest marathoner to Kastor...
The final times: Mizuki Noguchi (2:26:20), Catherine Ndereba (2:26:32), Deena Kastor (2:27:20).
We wonder... What will the men learn from this race in preparation for the men's marathon the week after?
As It Happened
The race began on time at 6:00PM - with 82 women taking the starting line. Earlier reports suggesting starting temperatures as high as 100 degress fahrenheit fortunately did not come true, and the starting temperature was still a very warm 86 degrees with 50% humidity.
From the beginning, Paula Radcliffe controls the race - but setting a slow pace for the first mile, which was passedin 5:46. At such a slow pace, virtually all women were still in the pack. All are respecting the weather and the difficult course to come.
By mile 5 (27:33), the pack has whittled down to approximately thirteen women - still at a moderate pace, averaging approximately 5:26 per mile. The pack contains most of the favorites, although Deena Kastor is back ten seconds behind this pack. Paula Radcliffe leads the pack and is setting the pace - all of the other runners seem to know that she is the woman to beat and no one willing to risk pushing the pace at this point.
Mile 6 at 33:13 and 34:24 for the first 10K. Paula Radcliffe continues to lead the pack and set the pace. Deena Kastor is now 41 seconds behind the leaders. The first set of hills will begin at this point.
7 miles (38:56), the pack is now down to 10 runners, with Radcliffe leading an international contingent: three Japanese Mizuki Noguchi, Naoko Sakamoto and Reiko Tosa; two Kenyans: Margaret Okayo and Catherine Ndereba; one Serbian: Olivera Jevtic, two Ethiopians: Elfenesh Alemu and Asha Gigi; and one Romanian: Constantina Tomescu.
9 miles (50:25), the runners are moving up the hills. Mizuki Noguchi begins to surge and is now the woman leading the pack and setting the pace - although the pack of ten remains with her. Catherine Ndereba maintains here trademark position of running a step or two at the back of the pack - this used to concern us, but we're now used to it.
At mile 12, Margaret Okayo is running at the back of the pack along with teammate Ndereba, but this is not a position that Okayo usually takes - she must be having difficulty.
Halfway in 1:14:02. Okayo is managing to hold on, just a couple of seconds behind, but maintaining that distance. Constantina Tomescu is beginning to fall back and seems in difficulty.
14 miles at 1:19:16. Okayo and Tomescu are both a few seconds behind the pack of eight that remain in the front. All appear strong - with the toughest hills still to come.
15 miles at 1:24:54. Tomescu is now well away from the group, perhaps 15 seconds behind. Okayo is six seconds behind. The rest of the pack of eight remains intact with Radcliffe in the front, setting the pace as the women move up the hills. The hills from mile 11 to mile 19 will see the runners gain more than 700 feet of altitude.
1:28:05 (15K) in the middle of some tough hills. Noguchi is pushing the pace and the pack is just beginning to split apart. Elfenesh Alemu is the only runner who has moved along with Noguchi and the two have opened up more than a seven second lead. Radcliffe and Ndereba are vying for third place, each running on opposite sides of the road as the runners move past the 16th mile (1:30:45).
Into the 17th mile (1:36:11), Noguchi and Alemu are nine seconds ahead of Ndereba who is a second ahead of Radcliffe who might be struggling a bit with the heat. The next runners are ten seconds behind Radcliffe, so it looks like this is the race.
On the way to mile 18 (1:41:35), Noguchi has continued to move ahead and is alone in the lead, perhaps ten seconds ahead. Alemu is in second place, with Ndereba another ten seconds behind and Radcliffe five seconds back seconds behind her.. The hills will continue for another couple of miles then it will decline severely on the final 10K of the course. Either Noguchi will hold her lead and her strategy of building a lead through the hills will prove smart or foolhardy - we will see.
At mile 19, Noguchi is now 23 seconds ahead of Alemu. Radcliffe is 31 seconds behind and Ndereba has fallen back to fourth place another six seconds behind Radcliffe. No one else is in contention at this point. Word has come back that Kastor is moving forward, now 2:11 behind the leader - probably too far back to move to make it to a medal position, but now in 8th place and gaining some ground.
By mile 20 (1:52:39), Noguhchi's lead is more than 30 seconds, but the downhills are about to begin. Radcliffe has moved ahead of Alemu into second place. Ndereba is just a couple of seconds behind. What a great race!
Mile 21 (1:57:59), in the middle of a downhill 10K, a steep downhill 10K... Noguchi leads by 30 seconds. Ndereba has moved into second place, more than ten seconds ahead of Radcliffe (how did that happen?). Alemu is a couple of seconds back, but she may be outclassed at this point. Will anyone catch Noguchi?
Mile 22 (2:03:29), Ndereba is now 23 seconds behind Noguchi. Paula Radcliffe is about thirty seconds behind Ndereba and Alemu is ten seconds behind Radcliffe. Radcliffe has the greatest raw speed of the bunch, Ndereba has the experience.
At the 36K sign (22.5 miles), Radcliffe stops. She starts, she stops. Radcliffe is some terrible trouble. she will be out of medal contention, if, indeed, she can finish the race at all. It becomes clear that she will not as she stops and sits at the side of the road with her head in her hands.
At 40K (2:19:00) and 25 miles (2:19:49) Noguchi holds the lead, but Ndereba continues to gain on Noguchi and the gap is down to about thirteen seconds. Well behind Ndereba, Alemu holds onto third place. Thirty-eight seconds behind Alemu is Kastor who now has strong hopes of gaining a medal having run her own race and continuing to gain.
2:23:28 into the race, Deena Kastor flies past Alemu. Wow!
Noguchi makes it onto the track in 2:24:30, ten seconds later, Ndereba makes it to the track. But Ndereba can not catch Noguchi....
Mizuki Noguchi is the 2004 Olympic champion winning in 2:26:20. Catherine Ndereba wins silver in 2:26:32. Deena Kastor arrives at the finish line in tears in 2:27:20 - such emotion - and what a great race - coming from as far back as 18th place to gain the bronze medal.
Also of interest:
--The Fight To Establish the Women's Olympic Marathon
--The First Women's Olympic Marathon
--Interactive Chart/Information of past Olympic Marathons