2000 – Naoko Takahashi

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24-Sep-2000 – Sydney Olympics – 2:23:14 – ASICS Sortie Japan
Date of birth: 6-May-1972
Nationality: Japanese
Olympic Record duration: 11 years, 10 months, 12 days

The athlete:                
Like many athletes featured on this page, Naoko Takahashi initially started competing in shorter distances before turning her attention to the marathon. She showed immediate promise, completing her debut marathon in 1997 in just above 2:30. Her second year of competition was far more successful, Takahashi winning both marathons she entered. This included winning the marathon at the 1998 Asian Games and setting the new Japanese women’s marathon record. Her time was 2:21:47, then the sixth fastest time ever, set in very hot and humid conditions.

Takahashi was unable to follow this up in 1999, with various injuries preventing her from competing in the World Championships. She won when she returned to running at the 2000 Nagoya International Women’s Marathon, demonstrating that she had lost none of her pace. It also secured her selection for the Japanese team going to the 2000 Olympics.

Staying with the lead pack, it was at the 17th kilometre that Takahashi attacked. On a course described as one of the hardest ever faced by Olympians, Takahashi had only one challenger with her by kilometre 27, future marathon world champion Lidia Șimon.

Takahashi put further distance between herself and Șimon, having booked her hotel near the hilly stretch from the 32nd to 37th kilometres, and practicing before the day of the race. Cameras capture the dramatic moment at the 34th kilometre when she threw her sunglasses aside while putting in another burst of speed.

By kilometre 40 she had built her lead to 28 seconds, but Șimon cut this down to eight seconds by the finish. It was still enough for Takahashi to take the gold medal and break the Olympic record set by Joan Benoit back in 1984. She was overjoyed at the finish, taking a victory lap around the stadium where the marathon had finished, bowing to the crowd every few metres.

It was an incredibly significant moment for Japan, as it was their first gold medal in athletics in 64 years. Such was her inspiration from her victory that Takahashi wrote a poem dedicated to the rigorous training regime she had put herself through, often running as much as 200 miles in each week and in less than ideal conditions. The poem goes:

In the cold dark winter days…
When there’s no buds, no leaves, nothing comes out…
Grow the roots under the ground, deeper and wider…
You’ll see a giant flower come spring.

She told reporters that her next goal was to set the new overall women’s marathon world record, then held by Tegla Loroupe. You can read more about that here. As for her Olympic record, it would stand until 2012, Takahashi cementing her place in marathon history.

The shoes:                   

The specific model is the Sortie Japan, at the time the latest entry into the Sortie series ASICS had introduced in 1981. It was the sequel to the famously successful Marup. The racing flats are proudly featured on the ASICS website. The silhouette is easy to spot through the pictures taken of Takahashi wearing the white, yellow, and red shoes during her Olympic win.

ASICS made sure the world knew, with press invited  to the opening of their flagship store in Tokyo. Takahashi was present, with many photos showing her with the same model of Sortie Japan that she wore on the way to gold. The model was incredibly lightweight, coming in at only 95 grams. The upper was highly breathable mesh, with the midsole only the barest amount of EVA foam.

Although you can’t buy new pairs of the exact version Takahashi wore, ASICS has continued releasing new entrants into the Sortie series. There are of course plenty floating around second-hand, but they are all fairly well worn given their reputation as running shoes. The SortieMagic RP 5 is the latest model carrying the torch, weighing in at a still svelte 139 grams. For the serious runners out there they still represent the racing flat style that for so long dominated the marathon.