Diminutive Noguchi takes giant steps in the marathon
Before the start of the women's marathon, a huge amount of attention had been focused on British athlete Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe had broken the world record in spectacular style and arrived at the Games as the overwhelming favourite. Unfortunately, a calf injury endured a few weeks before the Games had placed a question mark against her chances.
The day of the race was extremely hot and the course, which, fittingly, started in the ancient town of Marathon and finished in the Panathinaikos Stadium used in the first modern Games in 1896, looked tough. Radcliffe certainly started in confident style, holding the lead over the first half of the race and appearing to allay concerns over her physical condition. Among those just behind were Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, the reigning world champion, and Japan's Mizuki Noguchi.
However, at the 25km mark the complexion of the race changed profoundly. First Noguchi broke away from the pack, defying the uphill contours of the course to open up a healthy lead, with Ndereba following her in second.
Radcliffe, meanwhile, was beginning to struggle and, after 36km, she slowed and then collapsed on the side of the road in a state of physical exhaustion. The injury that had dogged her preparations had slowly taken its toll. Her race was over.
At the front of the field, Ndereba was slowly making ground on Noguchi, but the Japanese runner's brave break had given her a good lead and it was only gradually being eroded. Ndereba went from 30 seconds behind, to 25 and then down to 20 as the race entered the closing stages. Another sprint from the Kenyan brought the gap down to 15 seconds, but Noguchi had the strength to hold on and take gold.
In claiming her surprise victory Noguchi also set a rather unusual record: at just 1.50m tall, she became the shortest ever Olympic track champion!