Naoko Takahashi’s bid for a second straight Olympic gold in women’s marathon was crushed when she failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) said on Monday.
The JAAF said the women’s national team will feature Naoko Sakamoto, 23, Reiko Tosa, 27, and Mizuki Noguchi, 25. Masako Chiba, the reigning world bronze medalist, will serve as a reserve who is able to replace any runner but only for health reasons.
Takahashi said she will not retire from her career as a marathon runner even though she was not chosen to compete in Athens.
“I received a lot of support from fans all over Japan, and I still want to repay them for that. I don’t intend to quit running at this point,” said Takahashi in a news conference at a Tokyo hotel.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Athens and even pictured myself running there so it’s really too bad. I’m sorry for myself too, but I’m sorry that I couldn’t take my coach there with me,” the 31-year-old said.
Tomoaki Kunichika, who won the Fukuoka International Marathon last December, Toshinari Suwa, who came second in the same race, and Shigeru Aburaya, who placed fifth in the past two worlds, will comprise the men’s team. Toshinari Takaoka was named the reserve.
“After agreeing on Tosa, it was a very difficult decision to make. For the final spot on the women’s team, we had to choose between Sakamoto, Takahashi and Chiba,” said JAAF executive Keisuke Sawaki.
“We rate Takahashi’s talent very highly, but (at the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon) she got off to a rocket start and then lost her stamina down the final stretch. That’s an important factor to consider when it comes to international races,” he said.
Sawaki also revealed that the 31-year-old Takahashi was not chosen as a reserve out of respect for her status as a Sydney Olympic gold winner.
In Tokyo last November, Takahashi was upstaged by Ethiopian Elfenesh Alemu in finishing second with a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 21 seconds after leading for much of the race and fading with 3 km to go.
She opted out of the next two qualifying races, which were won by Sakamoto and Tosa. Sakamoto clocked a time of 2:25.29 in the Osaka International Women’s Marathon in January, and Tosa 2:23.57 in the Nagoya International Women’s Marathon on Sunday.
Noguchi had already secured her Olympic berth having won the silver at the World Athletics Championships in Paris last August with a time of 2:24.14. Sakamoto came fourth in the same race.
“I’m real honored to be named to the team. I still can’t believe it. I cried every time my friends called to congratulate me today,” said Tosa.
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