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PARIS — Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi and Masako Chiba won the silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the women’s marathon on Sunday, the final day of the track and field World Championships in Paris.

News photoFrom left: Japan’s Naoko Sakamoto (4th), Mizuki Noguchi (2nd) and Masako Chiba (3rd) celebrate after completing the women’s marathon.

Pre-race favorite and former world record holder Catherine Ndereba of Kenya broke away shortly before the 35-km mark and never looked back for victory in a meet record of 2 hours, 23 minutes, 55 seconds.

Noguchi clocked 2:24:14 and Chiba 2:25:09, while Naoko Sakamoto finished fourth. Pusan Asian Games gold medalist Ham Pong Sil of North Korea placed fifth.

“I ran with only a medal in mind. I will have a lot of work to do before the (Athens) Olympics,” said Noguchi, who ensured a berth for the Olympics.

Under cloudy skies, the race got off to a very slow start as unheralded Romanian Constantina Tomescu took a big early lead with a column of nearly 20 runners bunched together 13 seconds behind at the 10-km point.

Tomescu was absorbed into the group around 13.5 km into the race at the Place de la Concorde.

The group remained almost the same as the pace also remained slow, and there still were 18 runners at the 20-km mark, including four Japanese — Noguchi, Chiba, Sakamoto and Takami Ominami.

Ominami lost her balance and fell on her chest shortly after 24 km into the race but quickly regained her feet and returned to the group only to be left behind before the 30-km mark. She ended up in 27th.

While the ranks of the runners began to thin after 32 km, Ndereba, who set the then world record of 2:18:47 in October 2001, suddenly broke free and went ahead shortly before the 35-km point leaving Noguchi, Sakamoto and Chiba quickly behind.

Also Sunday, the U.S. squad struck gold in the men’s 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays, and a gutsy anchor leg by 18-year-old Sanya Richards gave the Americans a win in the women’s 4×400 relay.

Americans took home 20 medals, 10 of them gold, to lead all nations in the nine-day meet. Next was Russia with 19 medals, including six golds. Those numbers could change, based on the resolution of U.S. sprinter Kelli White’s drug case.

The U.S. team had averaged 21 medals in the previous eight World Championships, which began in 1983. But this was the first time in a decade the Americans reached 20 medals.

Richards, a sophomore at Texas who became a U.S. citizen last year, held off Russia’s Natalya Nazarova and Jamaica’s Lorraine Fenton down the stretch to give the U.S. women victory in the 4×400 relay.

Jerome Young, who won the 400 title Tuesday and then became enveloped by a 4-year-old drug case, barely held off France’s Marc Raquil to give the U.S. men the 4×400 relay title.

Even without 100 world-record holder Tim Montgomery and three-time 100 world champion Maurice Greene, the men’s 4×100 relay team took gold for the third straight World Championships when J.J. Johnson caught Britain’s Dwain Chambers in the final few meters.

After a poor baton pass from Bernard Williams to Darvis Patton, Johnson was in third place when he began the anchor leg. First he caught Brazil’s Claudio Roberto Souza, then leaned at the finish to edge Chambers and give the Americans the victory in 38.06 seconds.

White’s case remains under investigation. Though she is likely to lose at least one of her gold medals, world track officials said they need to do more research before deciding on her punishment and passing the case on to U.S. officials.

World track officials said Sunday that White had passed a drug test after her win in the 200. But her positive drug test after the 100 means both medals could be at risk.

Also Sunday, Hestrie Cloete of South Africa won her second straight title in the women’s high jump, and 18-year-old Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya edged Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj to win the men’s 5,000.

El Guerrouj, who won his fourth world title in the 1,500 on Wednesday, was seeking the first 1,500-5,000 sweep since Finland’s Paavo Nurmi won both events at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Other winners Sunday were Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba in the women’s marathon, Djabir Said-Guerni of Algeria in the men’s 800, Russia’s Tatyana Tomashova in the women’s 1,500 and Russia’s Sergey Makarov in the men’s javelin.

For the second straight world meet, there were no world records broken.

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