translated by Brett Larner
Part of a series, an interview with former women's marathon world record holder and Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi, the first woman to ever break 2:20 for the marathon.
With regard to the Japanese athletics world, ever since Mizuki Noguchi won the medal at the Athens Olympics women's long distance has taken a downturn.
Yes, it has fallen a bit, hasn't it?
Are there any athletes in particular that you're paying special attention to?
Personally speaking, I'm watching Natsuki Omori from Ritsumeikan University. She never made the National High School Championships, but now that she's in her second year of university she has just exploded and is developing quickly. She's aggressive and has really nice form, so if she can keep going like this for four years without getting injured then I want to see her go to the marathon. She's somebody I'm really excited about.
Omori is 20 this year, so when the Tokyo Olympics happen she'll be 26.
The perfect age. When I ran Sydney I was 28. Right now as a university student she hasn't run even one marathon, but I think there's plenty of chance that we'll see her there at the 2020 Olympics.
What do you think needs to be done to improve the current situation?
I don't think our women are in a position right now where medals are out of reach. If you ask why, well, look at the men's world record, low 2:03. The Japanese men's national record is 2:06:16. Toshinari Takaoka ran that in 2002 at the Chicago Marathon, but in all the time since then nobody has broken it. However, in today's world there are loads of athletes, Africans included, running 2:06. Japanese men still have to break through that.
The women's world record is Paula Radcliffe's 2:15:25 from 2003, but the next-fastest is 2:18. If you can run 2:19 you've got a shot at winning races around the world. Japan has three women who've run 2:19, Noguchi, Yoko Shibui and me. We proved that Japanese people can break 2:20, and of course the knowhow of how to make that happen is still there. I think this should be a major boost. Our women should be going into any race in the world seriously targeting the win. That's the way I did it, but having doubts about whether something is really possible because you're going where nobody has gone before and following the road that others have already opened up are completely different situations. I want to see all of our women have more confidence and really believe that they can do it too.
Children today are taller and have longer legs than when I was a kid. They're blessed with talent. All they need is to blossom. There's no reason that can't happen.
Naoko Takahashi - Sportscaster, marathon commentator, JAAF executive member, JOC executive member, professor at Osaka Gakuin University. Born May 6, 1972 in Gifu. Began running in junior high school, joining the corporate leagues after graduating from Gifu Shogyo H.S. and Osaka Gakuin University. Made her marathon debut in January, 1997 at the Osaka International Women's Marathon. Won the Nagoya International Women's Marathon in March, 1998. In December the same year she set a then-Asian record 2:21:47 to win the Asian Games. In September, 2000 she won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, leading to her selection for the People's Honor Award. In September, 2001 at the Berlin Marathon she became the first woman to break 2:20, winning in a world record 2:19:46. In May, 2005 she left her longtime coach Yoshio Koide. In November that year she ran her first marathon in two years, winning the Tokyo International Women's Marathon in 2:24:39. She announced her retirement in October, 2008.