translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) left Japan on Dec. 25 for a high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China as part of her preparation for trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympic marathon team at the Nagoya International Women`s Marathon on Mar. 9. In the early morning while on the way to Narita Airport, Takahashi discovered that her ticket was actually for Dec. 26, not Dec. 25. Fortunately, she was able to fly on the 25th. In the past Takahashi has always had trouble before her good races, so this may have been a good omen.
Shortly before Takahashi won the 2000 Nagoya International Women`s Marathon to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, she suffered food poisoning while at a training camp in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Then in 2001 when leaving for a training camp in Boulder she was bitten on her right ankle by an unknown animal. Soon afterward she set a world record at the Berlin Marathon.
At Narita Airport, Takahashi for the first time told reporters her reasons for running in Nagoya, a race she has run and won twice, the last time being 8 years ago. "The last time I qualified for the Olympics was at Nagoya. I know the course and I have good luck there. If I had to choose between Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, I would run Nagoya because I like it the most. It`s also close to my hometown, so Nagoya is the best for my last Olympic attempt. To be honest, I made this decision in August."
Takahashi`s famed Sydney-era coach Yoshio Koide told a reporter, "Q-chan [Takahashi] contacted me while I was in Boulder. She sounded like she was feeling anxious so I asked her what was wrong. She showed me all her old training diaries and said, 'I tried to run these old workouts but they don't work well any more,' so I gave her a little advice. I told her that her age and muscles are different than they were 10 years ago. She seemed to have modified her training program a little bit on her own over the years, but....." Over dinner in Boulder, Koide convinced Takahashi to focus on March`s Nagoya as her target race to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. "I told her, 'Osaka is too close to think about. You should do Nagoya.'" When Takahashi returned from Boulder on Nov. 10, she told reporters at Narita Airport that she might do either Osaka or Nagoya, but in truth the decision had already been made in Boulder.
After returning from Boulder, Takahashi spent 3 weeks at another training camp in Tokunoshima where her training included a 40 km run. She also watched Noguchi`s victory in the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon on TV. "Noguchi said, 'There are only 2 spots left, so I`m on the edge of a cliff,' but after her victory I am closer to the edge than she was," she laughed.
Takahashi`s dog Lappy couldn`t go with her to Kunming, so she left it in a dog hotel. She herself will be spending New Year`s Eve in China. 2008 will be Takahashi`s Chinese zodiac year, leading her to say, "I think this will be my good luck year, so I hope good things will happen to me." Takahashi is returning to Japan in mid-January, making this her first long training camp in Kunming. To help feel at home she brought her own soy beans, canned sardines, buckwheat flour and mochi. Around the end of January she will go back to Kunming to continue preparing for Nagoya, with plans to return to Japan 10 days before the race.
"I don`t want to think about who else is running, I just want to do my best day to day. In Nagoya I want to run a race which will lead to the next one. I want to make next year the year that makes me glad I`ve kept running." When asked what she wanted for Christmas, Takahashi answered, "I want an injury-free body until March."