November 18, 2007

TOKYO, Japan — Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi won the 2007 Tokyo International Women’s Marathon on Sunday, moving a step closer to qualifying for the Beijing Olympics.

 

Olympic Gold Marathon Runner Noguchi

 


Running her first marathon in two years, Noguchi finished in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 37 seconds in near-perfect conditions to win her first Tokyo marathon.

“The road to Beijing opened up a bit more today,” Noguchi said. “There are still two more qualifying races and it’s a big relief to win this one.”

“It’s hard to find any fault with such a brilliant run and time,” said Keisuke Sawaki, executive director of the Japan Association of Athletic Federations.

“Noguchi showed us that she is a big runner who can put out an explosive duel in the second half,” he said. “I believe she has been working out tactics with Paula Radcliffe in mind.”

Noguchi, the defending Olympic champion from Athens in 2004, had not run a marathon since winning Berlin in 2005. On Sunday, she proved that she was far from rusty and would likely be one of the favorites in Beijing next summer.

Sunday’s race kicked off just after noon as nearly 600 runners set out from central Tokyo’s National Stadium under bright, sunny skies with the thermometer registering a comfortable 18 C.

By the 28th kilometer, the 29-year-old Noguchi and Kenya’s Salina Kosgei had made it a two-woman race, with Yoko Shibui, one of the pre-race favorites, starting to fall off the pace.

At the 35-km mark, Noguchi and Kosgei were still neck-and-and neck but Shibui was fading fast, more than 300 meters–and growing–behind the leaders.

By km 40, Noguchi was all alone out front, over a minute ahead of Kosgei, who would hang on to finish second. Kosgei, the runner-up in Berlin last year, wound up just under two minutes behind Noguchi in 2:23:31 with Italy’s Bruna Genovese, the 2004 champion in Tokyo, a further four minutes back in third (2:27:35).

“I felt the same kind of pre-race tension today that I felt before the Olympics and Berlin,” said Noguchi, who makes her home in Mie Prefecture. “Because everyone told me I was in good shape and had a good chance to win today, I felt a lot of pressure. I feel even happier with this win (than in Athens or Berlin) because of that, and also because this race had a very strong field.”

The race was one of three being used to determine the final two members of Japan’s women’s marathon team for Beijing next summer, the others being the Osaka Marathon in January and the Nagoya Marathon in March. Defending Tokyo champion Reiko Tosa did not participate in the race, nor did 2000 Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, who finished third here last year.

Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, who didn’t run Sunday, is the current world record holder in women’s marathon with a time of 2:15:25 set in London in 2003. Radcliffe owns the top three times in the record book and four of the top five.

Sunday’s race took the women over 42.195 km, starting and ending at National Stadium. The course took the runners past Shinagawa down to Heiwajima and back again.