Naoko Takahashi winning Olympic Marathon gold in Sydney (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Takahashi, Marathon barrier-breaker, announces retirement

Naoko Takahashi, the 2000 Olympic Marathon champion and the first woman to crack the event’s magical 2:20 barrier, has announced her retirement.

The 36-year-old was originally planning to run the upcoming Tokyo International Women’s Marathon, and was training in Boulder Colorado. However, Takahashi was forced to pull out of the race because she was not able to get into shape.

“There is no one decisive factor responsible for my decision to retire,” Takahashi said. “It was because I could no longer run like a truly professional runner. I wondered if I had hit the limit both mentally and physically,” Takahashi said at the press conference announcing her retirement.

Takahashi, a mediocre runner in her high school days, made the transition to elite runner after college graduation in 1995 when she started to run under the guidance of coach Yoshio Koide.  She ran the 5000m in the 1997 World Championships in Athens finishing thirteenth, but her real transition took place after she moved up to the Marathon.

She set a national record at the 1998 Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March. Then in December, she shocked the world when she ran 2:21:47 at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. Although she missed the 1999 World Championships due to an injury, in 2000 and 2001 she was the best Marathon runner in the world. She won the Olympic title in Sydney and then ran 2:19:46, the World’s fastest time, at the 2001 Berlin Marathon.

Her celebrity status in Japan after Sydney Olympics reached the stratosphere.  Although she won the Berlin Marathon again in 2002, Takahashi was no longer at the top of her game in 2003. She failed to win the 2003 Tokyo Women’s Marathon and thus failed to make the 2004 Olympic team. In 2005, Takahashi split from Koide and formed her own team, dubbed “Team Q,” referring to her nick-name “Q-chan.”

She won the 2005 Tokyo Women’s Marathon, but that would be the Marathon she would win. She was only third at the Tokyo Women’s Marathon in 2006 and thus failed to make the team for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.  Her final Marathon, as it turned out, was 2008 Nagoya Women’s Marathon. She lost contact after 9Km and finished 27th in 2:44:18, by far the slowest of her career. 

Takahashi is not planning to stop running just because she has retired. “I always loved track and field.  So I would like to continue to run even when I am 50 or 60 years old.”

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF