Naoko Takahashi wins Marathon - Sets new Olympic Record
Sunday morning: Sydney, Australia - the weather is cool, clouds cover the sun, light wind - perfect conditions for a marathon race. The field consists of 54 runners from 36 countries, including world record-holder Tegla Loroupe of Kenya (PR 2:20:43); her teammates Joyce Chepchumba (PR 2:23:22) and Esther Wanjiru (PR 2:23:31); the second-fastest (currently running) women's marathoner, Naoko Takahashi of Japan (PR 2:21:47); third-fastest marathoner, Eri Yamaguchi (PR 2:22:12), also of Japan; Lidia Simon of Romania (PR 2:22:54); defending Olympic Champion, Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia (PR 2:23:21); Marleen Renders of Belgium (with a PR of 2:23:43 in April's Paris Marathon); and Adriana Fernandez of Mexico (PR 2:24:06) - not to mention the rest of the world's best. The course is hilly, the field is small, the race is up for grabs.
The race begins, and Marleen Renders breaks away and leads the pack through the 5K mark (16:42) and the 10K mark (34:08), nearly 15 seconds ahead of the chase pack of 20, with all of the favorites in it. By 15K (51:19), the pack has caught Renders. Favorite Tegla Loroupe has faded, however, already 40 seconds behind the pack, clearly not feeling well. It's still anyone's race, but the sun has come out to add to the difficulty of the coming miles.
At 20 kilometers (1:08:10), the field is beginning to spread out. Naoko Takahashi has surged to the front and leads a pack of five, consisting of teammate Ari Ichihashi, Lidia Simon, Esther Wanjiru, and Chang Ok Kim (Kenya). Adriana Fernandez, Maura Viceconte (Italy), and Elfenash Alemu (Ethiopia) are only a few seconds behind, as the runners are working for position. Tegla Loroupe has fallen further behind, and is now 1 minute and 16 seconds behind the leaders; she is clearly out of medal contention - later reports have her suffering from diarrhea, and she herself explained that she was throwing up in the morning before the race - perhaps some bad food from the night before. Marleen Renders, who had led the race, is now 20 seconds behind.
At 25 kilometers (1:24:48), the medal race is starting to take shape. Naoko Takahashi continues to lead the field, together with Lidia Simon and Ari Ichihashi, followed fifteen seconds later by Adriana Fernandez and Esther Wanjiru. Elfanesh Alemu and Joyce Chepchumba have moved up and remain in contention, running in sixth and seventh places. The rest of the field is beginning to spread out, and the medals will clearly belong to three of these seven runners.
At 30 kilometers (1:41:39), Takahashi and Simon are running together, leading Ichihashi, who is starting to show signs of weakness, by 45 seconds. Joyce Chepchumba has passed the others to move into fourth, only seven seconds behind Ichihashi. The rest of the field continues to spread out and shows no signs of catching these leaders.
35 kilometers (1:58:26) - Takahashi, looking strong, has moved a few steps ahead of Simon, and it appears certain that one of these two will win gold, while the other will win the silver medal in this race. Joyce Chepchumba firmly controls the third position, nearly 1 minute and 10 seconds behind the leaders, but 40 seconds in front of the next challenger.
At 40 kilometers (2:15:19), the medal race is over and it's up to the leaders to simply hold onto their positions. Takahashi leads Simon by nearly 30 seconds, while Chepchumba has the bronze medal wrapped up, 1 minute and 10 seconds behind Simon, but 1 minute and 25 seconds ahead of Wanjiru in fourth. Takahashi and Simon are both on pace to break Joan Benoit's Olympic Marathon record that has stood since 1984.
The Finish: Naoko Takahashi, still looking strong, crosses the finish line in 2:23:14 - a new Olympic marathon record. She would attribute some of her strength on the hills to her recent training in Boulder, Colorado. Lidia Simon gained ground on Takahashi to finish 8 seconds back, regretting having let Takahashi go at 35KM, but happy for the silver medal (having finished 6th in the 1996 Olympics). Both of these runners ran the second half of the course faster than the first - a testament to their strength on the difficult course and hills. Joyce Chepchumba finished in third place, having run alone over nearly the entire second half of the course.
Other favorites did not fare as well, as the complete results (below) show. One exemplary performance, however, was American Christine Clark (not one of the favorites), who ran one of the most even races in the competition, and moved from 41st at the 10KM mark to finish in 19th place, shaving more than two minutes off of her previous best.
Complete results follow:
1 2:23:14(OR) Takahashi, Naoko JPN
2 2:23:22 Slavuteanu-Simon, Lidia ROM
3 2:24:45 Chepchumba, Joyce KEN
4 2:26:17 Wanjiru, Esther KEN
5 2:26:33 Biktagirova, Madina RUS
6 2:26:54 Alemu, Elfenesh ETH
7 2:27:03 Yamagughi, Eri JPN
8 2:27:07(PB) Ham, Bong-Sil PRK
9 2:27:38 Roba, Fatuma ETH
10 2:27:55 Ren, Xiujuan CHN
11 2:28:37 McCann, Kerryn AUS
12 2:29:26 Viceconte, Maura ITA
13 2:29:45 Loroupe, Tegla KEN
14 2:29:55 Bogachova, Irina KGZ
15 2:30:34 Ichihashi, Ari JPN
16 2:30:51 Fernández, Adriana MEX
17 2:30:54 Földing-Nagy, Judit HUN
18 2:31:32 Ferrara, Ornella ITA
19 2:31:35(PB) Clark, Christine USA
20 2:31:40(PB) Jong, Yong-Ok PRK
21 2:32:29 Machado, Maria Manuela POR
22 2:32:29 Ilyina-Wijenberg, Nadezhda NED
23 2:32:35 Morgunova, Lyubov RUS
24 2:33:45 Krolik-Oberem, Sonja GER
25 2:33:54 Tenorio, Martha ECU
26 2:34:33 Sutton, Marian GBR
27 2:35:07 Olivera, Erika CHI
28 2:35:32 Kim, Chang-Ok PRK
29 2:36:16 Gherasim, Camelia-Alina ROM
30 2:36:45 Alonso, Ana Isabel ESP
31 2:36:48 De Reuck, Colleen RSA
32 2:36:50 Portillo Cruz, María PER
33 2:38:28 González, Griselda ESP
34 2:38:42 Oh, Mi-Ja KOR
35 2:38:44 Hobson, Susan AUS
36 2:42:29 Edatto, Gadissie ETH
37 2:42:40 Aktas, Serap TUR
38 2:43:00 Nauer, Daria SUI
39 2:45:40 Muñoz, María Luisa ESP
40 2:47:26 Gonzalez, Dagoberto COL
41 2:51:03(NR) Dadabayeva, Gulsara TJK
42 3:02:32 Coello, Gina HON
43 3:10:55 Amaral, Aguida ETM
44 3:13:58 Davidson-Alley, Rhonda GUM
45 3:34:27 Ketavong, Sirivanh LAO
DNF Ernstsdóttir, Martha ISL
DNF Enaki, Valentina MOL
DNF Renders, Marleen BEL
DNF Mongudhi, Elizabeth NAM
DNF Kuku, Garifa KZK
DNF Carroll, Nicole AUS
DNF Yegorova, Valentina RUS
DNF Catuna, Anuta ROM
DNS Dreher, Claudia GER