BBC Sport
Monday, 30 October, 2000, 14:02 GMT

Olympic women’s marathon champion Naoko Takahashi has been given a prestigious award by under-pressure Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori.

The 28-year-old runner won the first athletics Olympic gold for Japanese women and has now become the 15th person to receive the People’s Honour Award since it began back in 1977.

“You have given inspiration and encouragement to youngsters and others by crossing the finish line with a refreshing smile,” said Mori at the ceremony.

Takahashi, who also became the third women and the first sportwoman to lift the coveted award, said: “I will cherish this award and try to become an athlete who makes people enjoy athletics.”

“I will use this award as a springboard and aim for even higher goals.”

The award has previously been won by five male sports celebrities including baseball star Sadaharu Oh, judo heavyweight Yasuhiro Yamashita and sumo grand champion Chiyonofuji.

Mori’s government has been hit by scandal over recent months. A senior party member resigned last week following allegations concerning a mistress, drugs and connections with right-wing extremists.

And with Mori’s support rating down to 23%, the prime minister will be hoping that the presentation of the award will boost his popularity.