News30 Sep 2001

Naoko Takahashi breaks the marathon barrier in Berlin


Naoko Takahashi breaks the marathon barrier in Berlin
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF
30 September 2001 – Berlin - Olympic Champion Naoko Takahashi wins in new world best of 2:19:46 while pacemaker Joseph Ngolepus takes the men’s title in 2:08:47

Naoko Takahashi rewrote history in the 28th Real Berlin Marathon when she broke the marathon barrier. On Berlin’s fast and flat course the Japanese Olympic Champion clocked 2:19:46 after running a race on her own with no rival ever near to her. Cheered on by up to a million people who were informed about Takahashi’s performance by race director Horst Milde, who was in the leading car of the men’s race, people on the streets roared their support. Naoko Takahashi passed large Japanese flags and people making all sorts of noises.

“It was a great atmosphere and I want to thank the people for their support. The course was superb and the weather was ideal”, Takahashi said and later added: “I would be happy if the organisers could arrange for me to come back next year.” With temperatures of about 15° C at the start, there was some light rain and a slight wind. So there were almost ideal conditions when runners from 85 nations started the race. 31,406 had entered the race, more than 25,000 finished. 

Tegla Loroupe (Kenya), who had run the world best in Berlin two years ago (2:20:43), finished second in 2:28:03. Berlin’s Kathrin Weßel coming in third in a personal best of 2:28:27. Next two places went to Japan: Shiki Terasaki (2:33:23) and Ai Sugihara (2:34:56). As last year, there was a surprise in the men’s race. Once again a pacemaker ran away from the rest of the field.

26-year-old Joseph Ngolepus (Kenya), a training partner of Tegla Loroupe in Detmold, won the race in 2:08:47. So there was some small consolation for Tegla Loroupe and her manager Volker Wagner. Ngolepus, who beat his personal best by two seconds in Berlin, pushed the pace after 35 k. Then he left his last rival, Willy Cheruiyot (Kenya) who later was second in 2:09:08, at about 37 k. William Kiplagat (Kenya), who was the fastest man in the field with a personal best of 2:06:50, was third in 2:09:55.

It was only for the first 5 k that Naoko Takahashi was outside the schedule for sub 2:20. But that was because of a head wind. After she had run through the Brandenburg Gate she reached 5 k in 16:45 minutes. Already at this point she was 32 seconds clear of the then second-placed Kathrin Weßel. Loroupe was another seven seconds behind and constantly lost more time on Takahashi. At 10 k she had fallen back to fifth place, but later she caught up again.

“I had a muscle problem at my back so that I could not run faster. It was similar to a problem I had before, but not as serious as in the past”, Loroupe explained.

Although she had lost her world record and did not manage to become the first women to run sub 2:20 the Kenyan was as fair as ever. “I congratulate Naoko Takahashi – she is a great runner,” Loroupe said.

 “I hope to come back strong in the marathon. But this is the marathon. So I cannot tell if it will be possible for me to get the world record back”, Loroupe said. She said she will now fully recover and then run a spring marathon.

“During the first few kilometres I was a bit afraid because of the wind, but afterwards I was very confident,” Naoko Takahashi said. Her first 5 k were the slowest in her race. The other 5 k’s she ran between 16:19 and 16:39. And she reached half way in 1:09:50. “I looked at my watch at this point and knew I would just have to run the same time again.” It was only on the last two kilometres that she finally slowed down. “I was getting tired, but I saw the time on the clock. And I knew I would still manage sub 2:20.” In between it had seemed possible for Naoko Takahashi to run sub 2:19. And her coach Yoshio Koide even said: “I am disappointed that Naoko did not run 2:16!”

But of course, there was no reason at all to be disappointed for Takahashi. “I had trained very well for this during the last four months in Boulder. And I had days with 70 to 80 k. I think in the future it should be possible for me to run one to two minutes faster.” This could well happen in Berlin again. Especially as the live coverage by Fuji TV to Japan was said to have been a great success, with the race starting in the afternoon for Japan. For her world best time and her win Takahashi altogether earned 230,000 DM, while Ngolepus cashed 65,000 DM.

“I have always had two goals: becoming an Olympic Champion and breaking the world record. Both achievements are roughly on the same level for me,” Takahashi said. “I will now be looking for my next goal. But I can not yet say, what this will be.” Meanwhile the editors of “Young Sunday”, the comic magazine, which carries Naoko Takahashi’s story, expect much greater weekly sales due to the new triumph of the Japanese heroine. 700,000 copies of the magazine with “Kazekko” (The Daughter of the Wind) had been sold weekly during the last few months. But during the press conference a change of the title was suggested: The Daughter of Typhoon.

Before the start of the race the runners had pulled a banner above their heads. It read: “United we Run.” This is the same motto under which the New York Marathon will take place on 4th November. And it was in remembrance for those who died during the terror attacks in New York and Washington. Another gesture by the Berlin organisers, who set up a donation for the families of the firefighters and policemen killed in the tragic events, was that Allan Steinfeld started the race together with Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit. “This was a touching moment, as all the people cheered and were very supportive,” the organiser of the New York marathon said.

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