by Brett Larner
Defending Olympic marathon gold medalist and Japanese national record holder Mizuki Noguchi staged a major comeback on an unexpectedly hot, sunny and windy day after two injury-plagued years away from the marathon, winning the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon in 2:21:37, breaking the eight year-old course record by 35 seconds and marking the second-fastest time in the world so far this year.
Noguchi took the lead from the starting gun and controlled the race over the entire distance. Other runners tried to take turns in front but apart from brief attacks by Yoko Shibui at the 7, 10, 15 and 20 km water stations and by Salina Kosgei of Kenya at the 22.8 and 26 km points, Noguchi never allowed anybody to step in front of her. A lead pack of eight runners quickly dwindled and by the 15 km water station only Shibui and Kosgei remained with Noguchi, running into a moderate headwind.
The three passed halfway in 1:11:16 and ran together until the 30 km point when Noguchi dropped a 3:15 km and Shibui abruptly fell off the pace. Two kilometers later, at precisely the 32.2 km point Noguchi attacked and pulled away from Kosgei. Kosgei reeled Noguchi back in over the next kilometer, only to have Noguchi attack and pull away again at the 34 km point. Once more Kosgei caught up, but at the 37 km point in the middle of Tokyo`s notorious long, uphill finish, Noguchi unleashed her final spurt and dropped Kosgei for good. At the 35 km point Noguchi was running two minutes slower than course record pace (2:22:12, Eri Yamaguchi, 1999) but on the uphill she turned on several sub-3:20 kilometers, becoming the first woman to run sub-17 for the 35-40 km segment of the course. Noguchi continued to push hard to an ecstatic finish in Tokyo`s Olympic Stadium, smashing Yamaguchi`s record and running a 55-second negative split despite the downhill first half and uphill second half.
Kosgei hung on for a solid second-place finish in 2:23:31, only eight seconds off her personal best time. Italian former winner Bruna Genovese overtook Shibui on the hill to finish third. Shibui slowed painfully and shuffled into the stadium over ten minutes behind Noguchi. Newcomer Mika Hikichi put on an impressive final lap to catch Shibui just meters before the line, sending Shibui down to a disappointing seventh-place finish.
Noguchi`s win almost certainly secures her a spot on the Beijing Olympic marathon team and is second this year only to Chunxiu Zhou`s 2:20:38 win on the far faster London course. In a post-race interview Noguchi said, "When I saw the `1 km To Go` sign I got a little bit sad because I wanted to keep running." The quality of her performance, especially the strength of her finish, sends a clear message that Noguchi intends to defend her gold medal in Beijing.
Mizuki Noguchi Winning
Salina Kosgei Finish
Genovese, Ozaki and Ominami Finishes (w/Noguchi`s Victory Interview)
Ozaki, Shibui and Balciunaite Finishes
Ruthe and Okubo Finishes
Links to other Tokyo reports:
International Herald Tribune
(c) 2007 Brett Larner
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