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Cool triumph for Naoko Sakamoto in Osaka

tough weather conditions with temperatures slightly above freezing level

2004-01-26

The high-class Olympic qualifying race for Japans marathon women ended with a triumph for Naoko Sakamoto in Osaka. The 23 year-old, who was fourth in the World Championships in Paris in 2003, should now have secured her place in the Olympic team for Athens. While the silver medal winner from Paris, Mizuki Noguchi, gained automatic selection for Athens, it is still an open question who could take the third place in Japans prestigious Olympic marathon team.

In tough weather conditions with temperatures slightly above freezing level and a very cool wind Naoko Sakamoto clocked a fine time of 2:25:29. Masako Chiba, who had been third in the World Championships edging out Sakamoto for the Bronze medal, was second with 2:27:38. Fighting for a possible third Olympic ticket Hiromi Ominami lost the battle against Chiba by just two seconds. But is far from sure that Chiba will get the third ticket for Athens.

Naoko Takahashi will be strongly in mind of the selectors. The Olympic Champion would come to Athens as the previous winner. But she was not able to show convincing form in her latest marathon. She had to be content with second place in the Tokyo marathon in December (2:27:21). A possible solution might be to choose Takahashi if she can prove her form in a shorter race. Additionally there is one more qualifying marathon to be run on 14th March in Nagoya.

A tactical race developed in Osaka on Sunday. So split times were slow in the first half of the race, although three women had personal bests of sub 2:22: Yoko Shibui (2:21:22), Masako Chiba (2:21:45) and Naoko Sakamoto (2:21:51). They covered the first half in 1:15:34, but then real racing started and Sakamoto was timed 1:09:55 for the second part.

Initially it was Masako Chiba who increased the pace soon after the half way point. “I had planned to force the pace by 30 k. But it was obvious to me that I had to go with the others“, Sakamoto later reported.

At first Shibui and Ominami were able to cope with Chibas and Sakamotos pace. But Shibui was to slow considerably and finally finished far behind in 9th place. When Sakamoto kept the pace high she dropped Chiba and Ominami as well. In contrast to former marathons this time she managed to keep going right to the finish. Chiba had beaten her in Paris and a year ago in Osaka in the final stages of each race. Sakamoto told that monthly training of almost 1,000 kilometres made her strong.


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