Friday, April 15, 2016

Looking Back at Mizuki Noguchi

by Brett Larner

Today's retirement press conference marks the end of the road for one of the sport's all-time greats, Mizuki Noguchi.  Noguchi is best remembered, rightfully, for her achievements in the marathon.  Five wins and seven top three finishes in ten marathon starts.  An Olympic gold medal.  A World Championships silver medal.  A Japanese national record of 2:19:12.  That time still a Berlin Marathon course record no one has been able to touch more than ten years later, the only World Marathon Majors course record held by a Japanese runner.

Her gold medal win at the 2004 Athens Olympics brilliantly executed, her loss to Catherine Ndereba at the 2003 Paris World Championships showing her exactly what she had to do to beat Ndereba a year later on the bigger stage and then doing it perfectly, almost down to the second, breaking Paula Radcliffe in the process.  Her DNS at the the 2008 Beijing Olympics a national heartbreak.  Her comeback in 2012 and 2:24:05 for 3rd in Nagoya a year later saying something inspiring about never giving up.

But there was more to Noguchi than the marathon.  On the track she was one of Japan's fastest-ever over 10000 m, running the 10000 at the 2001 World Championships.  Holder of the world records for 30 km on the road as both a marathon split and in a 30 km race.  And, often overlooked outside Japan, it was in the half, where she earned the title "Queen of the Half Marathon," that she really shined.  A silver medal and two 4th-place finishes at the World Half Marathon Championships.  23 sub-1:10 half marathons in her career, more than any other runner in history, and 17 of them wins.  14 times sub-1:09, more than half the total number run by Japanese women and a mark only Mary Keitany has surpassed with 15.  Twice under 1:08.  Five times breaking the national record, the last, her 1:07:43 best, coming in behind current national record holder Kayoko Fukushi in Marugame in 2006.  Even the last race of her pre-Beijing golden years, anchoring a 4x400 m relay at the May, 2008 Kansai Corporate Track and Field Championships, showed another dimension.

In later years Noguchi burned a fair amount of good will by regularly announcing that she was running races and then pulling out at the last second, the public's hope of seeing her shine again dimming each time.  But with all now said and done she keeps a special place in Japanese hearts.  Its last Olympic medalist.  Its last world-beater.  That kind of sun may never rise again.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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1 comment:

TokyoRacer said...

And she had beautiful running form. It was a joy to watch her run.