• Kyodo News

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Sydney Olympic gold medalist Naoko Takahashi will aim for the final spot at this summer’s Beijing Olympics by winning next month’s Nagoya International Women’s Marathon.

Organizers said Thursday that Takahashi, who is aiming for her first Olympic berth in eight years, was among 20 runners who received invitations to appear in the race on March 9. The Nagoya race is the final Olympic qualifying event for the women’s marathon.

“It’s my goal to make the Olympics. As long as I don’t give up I am sure my dream will be realized,” Takahashi said. “I want to come through with a victory.”

The 35-year-old Takahashi won the Nagoya race in 1998 and 2000 before becoming the first Japanese woman to win a gold medal in an Olympic athletics event eight months later in Sydney.

To secure an Olympic berth, Takahashi will need to win the race in a better time than Tomo Morimoto, who came second at the Osaka International Women’s Marathon in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 34 seconds in January.

“Anyone can win this race. I just want to make sure I don’t lose my focus while running,” said Takahashi.

Kiyoko Shimahara, who came sixth at last summer’s athletics world championships in Osaka, Yumiko Hara and defending champion Yasuko Hashimoto will also compete in Nagoya along with Naoko Sakamoto and 39-year-old veteran Harumi Hiroyama.

Joice Kirui of Kenya holds the top time of 2:26:52 among five overseas invitees competing.

Reiko Tosa clinched an Olympic berth with a bronze-medal finish at the world championships while Athens Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi made a triumphant comeback from a series of injuries to win the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in November to secure another spot.

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