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Daughter of the Typhoon

Naoko Takahashi

2001-10-03

As Uta Pippig was standing near Wild Eber Platz waiting to take the baton for the final seven kilometre leg as part of the UNICEF relay team in the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON, Naoko Takahashi had already run past. It still wasn clear if the Japanese runner really would be able to be the first woman to break the 2 hour 20 minute barrier. "Im keeping my fingers crossed for her," said the three-time real,- BERLIN-MARATHON winner.

Meanwhile, fellow-Japanese Hiroaki Chosa, the president of the international road running association AIMS, was holding one end of the finishing tape, at the other end of which was Otto Schily, Germanys Interior Minister. It was the same Chosa who two years before had said to the Berlin marathon chief Horst Milde: "In two years Ill be in Berlin, and Naoko Takahashi will be here to break the world record." He had been proved right.

It was only during the first five kilometres that a light headwind prevented Naoko Takahashi from keeping to the timetable which was to bring her to triumph in less than 2 hours 20 minutes. "Then, the wind bothered me, but afterwards, I didn have any problems. I was sure that I would make it," she said.

Takahashi benefited from guard runners on either side during the run. The organisers had provided them to protect her in the mass event - and they had been needed. At least once a guard runner had to push a runner out of the way, who, perhaps wanting to appear on television, had tried to run next to Takahashi. Takahashi progressed much more steadily than Tegla Loroupe when she ran her world best time two years ago, and at some point she even seemed to be able to manage a time of under 2 hours 19 minutes.

"Im disappointed that she didn run a 2:16," said her trainer Yoshio Koide. There wasn any reason for real disappointment, though. It was only during the last few kilometres that Takahashi was slowing. "I just didn have the strength, but I saw the time and knew that I would make it." The triumph brought the Fuji-TV channel, which was transmitting the event in Japan, viewing rates of over 50 percent.

Naoko Takahashi is so popular in Japan that since her Olympic victory she has become a manga character. The "Young Sunday" magazine can expect to break records, too. The magazine, which dispatched three correspondents to the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON, expects a significant rise in its usual 700,000 weekly sales. In the magazine, Naoko appears as Kazeko - "Daughter of the wind". After finishing in Berlin, someone at the press conference suggested renaming her "Daughter of the typhoon." When asked about her plans and new targets the 29-year-old Takahashi said: "I think I might be able to run one or two minutes faster. Im an Olympic champion, and now Ive got a world record - Ill set myself new challenges, but at the moment I don know what theyll be."

Recently she did four months high altitude training in the thin air of Boulder, Colorado. "I can say exactly what mileage I did each week, because we don keep a weekly tally, but the most I ran in a day was 70 to 80 kilometres. The training at an elevation of 3,500 metres was particularly tough"

On Monday she was again honoured in Berlin when the representatives of AIMS named her the runner of the year 2000, and presented her with The Golden Running Shoe. The trophy had last been handed to Tegla Lourope, and the signs are that it will be Naoko Takahashi who will be receiving it once more for 2001. The 29 year-old athlete began running at high school and later joined a club.

The first of her total of six marathons was in 1997 in Osaka, where she finished seventh with a time of 2:31:32. Hardly two years later, her first big win made the world of athletics sit up and take notice of her. Her result was so outstanding that some refused to believe it at first. Pundits talked of the best ever performance by a female marathon runner when she won the title at the Asia Games in 2:21:47 – the seventh fastest time ever.

But it was the conditions that made the win so impressive. The 1.63 metre, 47 kilogram Japanese had run in sweltering heat and high humidity. In Sydney 2000 Takahashi was again number one, which made her the idol of a marathon-crazy Japan. Since her Olympic victory she has become one of Japans most popular personalities. "The Japanese love the Olympics, and after I won, there were lots of appearances, autograph events and photo sessions. My lifes changed, but Ive not changed as a person," said. Naoko Takahashi who is recognised as a friendly athlete with a sense of fun. "I can say why marathons are so popular in Japan, but the TV ratings are always good – something makes us marathon crazy."

In spite of being so popular, Naoko Takahashi doesn have any problems when she goes out or has to go shopping. "Well, sometimes I hide under sunglasses and think thats perfect. But my manager says that anybody in Japan could recognise me."


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