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Takahashi close to Marathon Best in Bangkok

Takahashi cruises to marathon gold in Bangkok
Japan's Naoko Takahashi ran away with the first gold medal of the Asian Games on Sunday, missing the world best by less than a minute after a glorious front-running performance in the women's marathon.

The 26-year-old from Japan's industrial heartland of Nagoya ignored the high heat and humidity of Bangkok and cruised to victory in a time of 2:21:46, New Asian Best Performance and second best of the year. She started the race as hot favourite and managed to improve on her personal best by more than four minutes despite the difficult tropical conditions.

Naoko Takahashi, who was born on May 6, 1972 in Gifu prefecture, is trained by Yoshio Koide, who also coached Yuko Arimori to an Olympic silver medal (1992) and Olympic bronze (1996), and Hiromi Suzuki to World Championships’ gold (1997).

In 1995, she was only a mediocre runner with personal best of 16:13.12 in the 5000m. She improved dramatically in 1996 lowering her personal bests to 15:37.51 in the 5000m and 31:48.23 in the 10,000m. She also finished 13th in the 5000m at the World Championships in Athens in 1997.

She made her marathon debut in Osaka in 1997, running her second marathon in Nagoya (near her hometown; Gifu is north of Nagoya) last March. She surprisingly set a new National Record of 2:25:48 after running 16:06 from 30Km to 35Km and 16:21 from 35Km to 40Km.

For her third marathon, she went out hard from the start and won the Asian Games convincingly by running the 5th fastest marathon ever (2:21:47) under oppressive conditions, with the temperature above 30C and humidity at 90%.

When she was younger, Takahashi set her eyes on 3 big aims: the Olympic Games, the World Championships and the Asian Games. Now that she’s won the Asian Games, she has only two to go…

She started running in Junior High school as an 800m runner. She recalls running only about 4Km a day at that time.

In college, she was mostly running 1500m, and 3000m. By the time of her graduation, she was ambitious enough to ask to be coached by Koide, recognised as one of the best in Japan. He initially refused, but she wouldn’t give up so easily. She asked to be trained together with the Recruit team at her own expense and he then agreed. He would later arrange for the reimbursement of expenses and permit her to join the team. And now, Koide must certainly be proud of his protégée.

One of the interesting questions is how much faster would have she run if the temperature was more conductive to marathon running, say 15C or so. According to some tables, at 25C time would increase by 2.5-7%, at 27C the time is expected to increase by 3.5-8.0%, and at 30C performance can be expected to decline by 6-11%. So taking the best case and ignoring the humidity factor, we can probably say that she lost at least 5 minutes.

Bearing in mind that the World Best Performance was lowered to 2:20:47 by Tegla Loroupe in Rotterdam earlier this year, and the conditions in which Takahashi set this astonishing performance, we are probably facing the rising star of this tough and legendary discipline.


Stats courtesy of Katsunori K. Nakamura

Complete Marathon record
2:21:47     1st Asian Games Bangkok 6 Dec 98 Asian Record
2:25:48     1st Nagoya 8 March 98 Japanese NR
2:31:32     7th Osaka 26 Jan 97 (debut)

31:48.23     5th NC Osaka 9 June 96
31:55.95     2nd Mito 5 May 98
31:57.99     2nd race 2 Jpn Corp Ch Naruto 12 June 98
32:34.50     7 Mito 5 May 97
32:48.01     2h1 NC (heat) Osaka 6 June 96
32:50.9       1st Narashino 7 Apr 96

15:21.15     1st Osaka 9 May 98
15:23.64     5th Osaka 10 May 97
15:28.25     3r2 Jpn Corp Ch Naruto 13 June 98
15:28.31     1st Oda Hiroshima 29 Apr 98
15:29.11     1st Nambu Sapporo 13 July 97
15:32.25     5h2 WC (heat) Athinai 7 Aug 97
15:32.83     13th WC Athinai 9 Aug 97
15.34.04     3rd Oda Hiroshima 29 Apr 97
15:35.42     7th NC Tokyo 3 Oct 97
15:37.15     6th Toto Super Tokyo 16 Sept 96
15:39.22     5th Kokutai Osaka 29 Oct 97
15:43.17     6h1 NC Tokyo 2 Oct 97

            5000m          10000m          Half Marathon          Marathon
1993     16:22.90
1994     16:16.1            34:02.02
1995     16:13.12                               1:15:40
1996     15:37.15          31:48.23          1:12:54
1997     15:23.64          32:34.50          1:10:35              2:31:32
1998     15:21.15          31:55.95                                  2:21.47