Originally created 03/16/04

Japan's Olympic marathon champ to miss Athens



TOKYO -- Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi failed to make the cut for the Athens Games on Monday when three other women were chosen to represent Japan.

Keisuke Sawagi, director of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, called the decision to omit Takahashi "extremely painful."

"Her past accomplishment was outstanding, but we had to think carefully whether our selection should be based on past achievement alone," he said at a news conference.

Takahashi, who is extremely popular in Japan, won the gold medal in Sydney in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 14 seconds. She won six consecutive races from 1998 until her runner-up finish in 2:27:21 at the Tokyo Women's International Marathon in November.

"For a long time, I've wanted to go and had imagined myself running, so I am disappointed that I will not be able to," she said.

Chosen for the Aug. 13-29 games were: Reiko Tosa, the 2001 world silver medalist; Mizuki Noguchi, who automatically won a spot by finishing second at the August world championships in 2:24:14; and Naoko Sakamoto, winner of January's Osaka Marathon at 2:25:29.

"I still can't believe it," said Tosa, who was timed in 2:23:57 in a race Sunday.

The three men selected were: Tomoaki Kunichika, winner of the Fukuoka Marathon in August in 2:07:52; Toshinari Suwa, second in Fukuoka in 2:07:55; and Shigeru Aburaya, second in last year's Tokyo Marathon in 2:09:30.