BBC Sport: Olympics 2000: Athletics-Track
Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 03:38 GMT 04:38 UK
Naoko Takahashi created a piece of Olympic history by becoming the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic track and field event as she took marathon gold in Sydney.
The 28-year-old also set a new Olympic best time of two hours, 24 minutes 14 seconds in beating Romanian Lidia Simon into second place, with Kenyan Joyce Chepchumba taking bronze in 2:24.45.
But she was almost thwarted by an over zealous trackside helper, who rushed to greet Takahashi as she entered Stadium Australia, unaware that the Japanese athlete had to complete a lap of the track.
Clutching the finishing ribbon and a bottle of water, the volunteer was pulled back just in time as Takahashi swept past her.
But the apparently shell-shocked official then failed to stop Chepchmuba, who continued on for an extra lap.
Takahashi’s winning time shattered the previous best set by American Joan Benoit 16 years ago, by 98 seconds as she at last gave Japan an athletics gold to celebrate.
Japanese women have won three Olympic golds in swimming, two in volleyball and two in judo, but have never won an athletics event.
Yuko Arimori won the silver in the women’s marathon in Barcelona and bronze in Atlanta, while Kinue Hitomi won silver in the women’s 800 metres at the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
Takahashi’s victory is also Japan’s first Olympic athletic gold for men or women since 1936.
On a roller-coaster course through Sydney’s suburbs, Takahashi was in the pack which covered an early break from Belgium’s Marleen Renders, hauling her in after 12km.
Takahashi then took the initiative, with an injection of pace that whittled the pack down, dropping Ethiopia’s defending champion Fatuma Roba and Kenyan world record holder Tegla Loroupe – the only woman in the field with a faster time than Takahashi – in the process.
With compatriot Ari Ichihashi helping set a fast pace, Kenyan Esther Wanjiru and Mexico’s Adriana Fernandez were dropped after 20km, leaving the two Japanese women and Simon clear.
The surge took its toll on Ichibashi, who dropped off the pace and fell back.
Takahashi made her decisive winning move just under two hours into the race, throwing off her sunglasses before attacking on one of the switchback course’s stiff climbs.
Simon was unable to respond to the challenge, leaving Takahashi with a clear victory run into Stadium Australia.
Olympic gold is an overdue reward for Takashashi, who won the Asian Games marathon title in 1998 and was strongly tipped to win the world crown in Seville last summer only to be denied by a knee injury.
Her victory will be hailed back in Japan, which threatens to take over from the African nations in dominating the women’s marathon.
Britain’s Marion Sutton finished 28th in 2:34.33 after fearing she might not reach the Olympic Stadium for the last lap in front of the huge crowd.
“At 24 miles I wondered whether I was going to finish as I started to get cramp in my calf,” said the Cornwall-based runner.
“But I was determined to keep going although I thought I might collapse. The last two miles were awful, but I made it.
Kenya’s Loroupe, one of the favourites after winning the London Marathon this year, finished back in 13th place (2:29.45) after waking up feeling ill and may not recover in time to run in the 10,000m.