What was probably the most dramatic women’s marathon in the Olympic
history ended with another Japanese triumph. Four years after Naoko Takahashi
became a national hero by winning the event at the Sydney Olympics Japan got a
new sports star: Mizuki Noguchi won the Olympic gold medal. She covered the
classic distance of 42.195 k in 2:26:20. The finish was in Panathinaiko Stadium
– the same arena where Spiridon Louis had won the first Olympic marathon
108 years earlier. World champion Catherina Ndereba was second in 2:26:32,
while there was a sensational bronze medal for Deena Kastor. The US-runner
finished third in 2:27:20.
After 36 k her race was over and she was sitting on the pavement,
Meanwhile Paula Radcliffe experienced a nightmare in tremendous heat. In what
was probably the most disappointing race of her career she could not fulfil her
dream of becoming an Olympic Champion. After 36 k her race was over and she was
sitting on the pavement, crying. The 30 year-old British marathon world record
holder (2:15:25) obviously could not cope with the tremendously difficult
conditions. At temperatures of up to 35 ° Celsius (95 F.) in the shade she
was absolutely exhausted on the hilly course. 8 k before the finish she stopped
running when she was still in third position.
Olympic marathon races obviously have their own
Runners who have been dominant for years before have often been bitterly
disappointed at what should have been their career climax. In 1992
Poland’s Wanda Panfil was a favourite to win the Olympic marathon, but
she did not finish inside the top ten. Then, in 1996, Uta Pippig was supposed
to be the sole favourite for the Olympic gold. She had won five big marathons
in a row, but in the Olympic final she got badly injured and had to drop out.
The next great runner was Tegla Loroupe. In 1998 the Kenyan had broken the 13
year-old world record of Ingrid Kritiansen (Norway). But in the Olympic
marathon final she got stomach problems and could only finish a distant
This time it was Paula Radcliffe’s turn. It is extremely sad for her
since she has lost so many big races despite running so strong. At 5,000 or
10,000 m she has three times been fourth, twice she was fifth and once she
managed a silver in a big competition like Olympics or World Championships.
Tactical mistake in the boiling temperatures
May be the best ever English long distance runner made a tactical mistake in
the boiling temperatures. Right from the start she ran from the front in a fast
pace. Those who could not follow had lost the Olympic race early on. Despite
the course going uphill Paula Radcliffe passed 10 k in 34:25 minutes. That
would have been a finishing time of sub 2:25 – talking into account the
conditions an unbelievable time.
But in contrast to her other marathon races this time Paula Radcliffe did
not get rid of her opponents. And after the first half (1:14:02), which was
mainly uphill, Radcliffe became a victim of her own pace making. While
Radcliffe was running into trouble Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi and
Ethiopia’s Elfenesh Alemu, who later came in fourth in 2:28:15, used this
opportunity to increase the pace and take the lead. Between 25 and 30 k
Noguchi, who has a marathon best of 2:21:18, was able to build a decisive lead.
For a short time it looked as if Radcliffe might come back. She had taken
second place. But when Catherine Ndereba passed her this was a sort of knockout
for her. She tried, but she could not run any further. Thousands of British
fans in central Athens and in the stadium waited in vain for their idol.
"The ultimate sensation: Because then Deena Kastor would
probably have won.
„I am simply happy“, Mizuki Noguchi said after defending her lead
against Catherine Ndereba. She was so exhausted that she could not run a lap of
honour. So who knows what would have happened if the race would have been a
couple of miles longer. May be there would have been the ultimate sensation:
Because then Deena Kastor would probably have won. The 31 year-old showed a
superb performance coming from the back and catching one runner after another.
She had started in a more conservative way and was in 28th position after 5 k.
At half way she was in 12th position and 1:37 minutes behind the leaders
– that was the biggest gap. Then the US record holder (2:21:16) started
to catch up. On the last 7,195 k she was as fast as no other runner in the
field: she ran 23:05 minutes.
“It was her goal to win an Olympic medal. Now she wants to win
a major marathon.“
“It is incredible. The whole of the last lap I was in tears. I did not
know if I finished fourth or third”, Deena Kastor said. Her husband
Andrew later said: “It was her goal to win an Olympic medal. Now she
wants to win a major marathon.“ Asked about the conditions Andrew Kastor
explained: “She’s a hill runner. She has very, very good
biomechanics for hill running and she loves to attack the hills. We’ve
been doing that in training at 8,000 feet in Mammoth, attacking mountains. She
chose the race because it was a difficult course with difficult conditions.
Running the Olympic marathon in Athens on the original course is the epitome of