By Alastair Himmer
TOKYO, Nov 16 Reuters - Olympic champion NaokoTakahashi suffered her first defeat since 1998 when shefailed to respond to a late surge from EthiopianElfenesh Alemu at the Tokyo International Women’sMarathon today.
Grimacing with effort in her first competitive race inover a year, Takahashi was caught by Alemu at the 39kmmark in stamina-sapping conditions.
Alemu, who had battled back superbly after being leftbehind by Takahashi at the halfway point, sped away tocross the line in two hours, 24 minutes and 47 seconds.
A tired-looking Takahashi struggled on to finish in adisappointing time of 2:27.21.
My legs went at around 28km,'' said Takahashi, whowas the first woman to break two hours 20 minutes at the2001 Berlin Marathon. I went out fast, which is my style, but obviously Ididn’t have the stamina at the end.’’
Japan’s Kiyoko Shimahara crossed the line in third ina time of 2:31.10.
Takahashi, who had not raced since successfullydefending her Berlin title in September 2002, lookedsupremely comfortable up until the 30km stage in herfirst Tokyo marathon.
The 31-year-old still led Alemu by 58 seconds through35km but the 24-degree heat and high humidity began totake their toll.
Alemu, who finished sixth behind gold medallistTakahashi at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, steadily closed the gap and tookthe lead with just over 3km left.
Takahashi, who drinks a supplement made from the juiceof giant killer hornets, simply had nothing left asAlemu raced away in the final 2km.
``I just ran out of energy. My legs stopped workingand that last hill really hurt but I just wanted to getacross the line,’’ said Takahashi after her run of sixconsecutive victories was broken.