Sydney Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi overcame a career-threatening leg injury to win the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in a dramatic comeback to full marathon racing on Sunday.

News photoNaoko Takahashi crosses the line at National Stadium to win the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 39 seconds.

Takahashi, running in a competitive marathon for the first time in two years, pulled away from Zivile Balciunaite of Lithuania and Ethiopian Elfenesh Alemu at the 35.7-km mark and crossed the line at National Stadium in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 39 seconds.

The victory was sweet revenge for Takahashi, whose shock defeat at the hands of Alemu in the same Tokyo race in 2003 cost her an opportunity to defend her Olympic title in Athens last year.

“I was able to return to where I am with all the support I got from many people, including those who stood along the streets today, enabling me to restart the clock that had stopped in me since two years ago,” Takahashi said.

The race was led by a group of seven runners, including two Russian pacesetters, early on and the leading group narrowed down to three after South Korean Lee Eun Jeong and Russian Svetlana Zakharova failed to keep up the pace.

Briefly, it appeared to be a repeat of the showdown between Takahashi and Alemu when Balciunaite slowed down. But the Lithuanian managed to move back into contention shortly before the pacesetters finished their role and stopped running after 25 km.

Just as the frontrunners were approaching the 39-km point where Alemu overtook Takahashi in the 2003 race, the 33-year-old former world record holder pulled ahead with less than 7 km left.

Takahashi, who had her right calf taped due to inflamed muscles, went on to stretch her lead and was greeted by an ovation from the crowd as she circled the track at National Stadium before completing one of the most dramatic comebacks by a Japanese Olympic athlete.

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