translated by Brett Larner
Naoko Sakamoto (32, Team Tenmaya), 7th at the 2004 Athens Olympics, announced her retirement from competition on Jan. 20 after running her final race, the Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden, where she placed 7th on the opening stage. "I still have the urge to get back to the top, but I just can't do the training I need to get there anymore," she said. "I decided that it's time to stop. I'm sad that I couldn't end it with a marathon."
Sakamoto graduated from Nishinomiya H.S. in Hyogo and joined the Tenmaya corporate team in 1999. In 2003 she ran 2:21:51 at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, the Japanese debut marathon record. Later the same year she was 4th in the Paris World Championships marathon, then won the 2004 Osaka International Women's Marathon to make the Athens Olympics. Following Athens a series of injuries kept her from making another national team.
Note: Sakamoto's agent Brendan Reilly sent the following: I've been working with Naoko during her entire career at Tenmaya. She is certainly one of my all-time favorite athletes, as cheerful and well-mannered as anybody I've been with in this sport. Her sub-70:00 second half (when sub-70:00 marathon splits were still a rarity) to win the 2004 Osaka International Women's Marathon on a snowy, bone-chillingly cold day was one of the greatest pieces of running I've ever seen. I am fairly certain Naoko's split from 30K to 40K that day was quicker than her lifetime 10,000m PB.
It says a lot about the former depth of Japanese women marathoning that at two of her career highlights...4th at the Paris World Championships and 7th at the Athens Olympics...that would have been headline news in most marathoning countries, Naoko was still only the 3rd finisher among Japanese women.
If you can ever track down the rap video that some of her young running fans made for her before the 2004 Athens Olympics, try to post it. Great stuff!