by Brett Larner
A documentary aired on Mar. 16 revealed that Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist and former world record holder Naoko Takahashi, who ran 2:44:18 at last week's Nagoya International Women's Marathon while trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, had serious knee surgery in the United States in early August, 2007. Takahashi developed problems with the mensicus in her right knee while training in the first half of 2007; the corrective surgery required extensive rehabilitation and represented a major disruption to Takahashi's training.
Takahashi's management firm Team Q successfully concealed this surgery from media. Her subsequent ferocious altitude training in Kunming, China attracted large-scale media coverage, and her Nagoya run was presented as a serious bid. Nagoya attracted viewer ratings of over 20% as the nation tuned in to watch its most respected marathoner try to realize a dream, but in interviews shortly after the race she admitted that her preparation had been inadequate and that as a result she was not really in shape.
Despite the seeming deception, Takahashi's admirable decision to finish the race after dropping from the lead pack in the first 9 km renewed her place in fans' hearts. Takahashi's motto is 'Your dreams will come true if you don't give up,' but while she certainly didn't give up in Nagoya, how much truer would her words have rung if she had run the same performance after admitting the reality of her situation rather than pretending to be in serious contention? It is likely the demands of her sponsorship deals precluded this as an option; her sponsors undoubtedly benefitted from the high viewer ratings and media attention. But in light of the revelation of her condition, the pre-race presentation of Takahashi as making a real attempt for the Olympic team comes across as less than honest and disrespectful to her fans and legacy.
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
Update: The AERA weekly news magazine published the following poll about Takahashi in its Mar. 24 issue, street date Mar. 17. AERA interviewed 224 people following Takahashi's performance in Nagoya. Answers are divided by age group, with people in their 30's divided by gender.
Q1. Do you still like Naoko Takahashi?
20's: yes - 47% no - 11% don't care - 42%
30's men: yes - 67% no - 13% don't care - 20%
30's women: yes - 51% no - 15% don't care - 34%
40's: yes - 41% no - 15% don't care - 34%
50's: yes - 67% no - 13% don't care - 20%
60's and up: yes - 57% no - 10% don't care - 33%
Q2. Should Takahashi retire?
20's: yes - 37% no - 26% don't care - 37%
30's men: yes - 21% no - 38% don't care - 41%
30's women: yes - 21% no - 38% don't care - 41%
40's: yes - 29% no - 31% don't care - 40%
50's: yes - 33% no - 33% don't care - 34%
60's and up: yes - 33% no - 37% don't care - 30%