Japan’s former marathon queen Naoko Takahashi would swap her Olympic gold medal for the chance to compete at the 2016 Games if they are awarded to Tokyo.
As her medal gathers dust in a cupboard at home, the 2000 Sydney Olympic champion says she misses the adrenaline rush of competitive athletics and even her brutal training regimen.
“Most days I forget I even ran in the Olympics,” the 37-year-old said in an interview. “The gold medal is in the back of a drawer somewhere. I never even peep at it.”
After splashing along 10km of Tokyo’s proposed marathon course for the 2016 Olympics in pouring rain at the weekend, Takahashi’s competitive instincts quickly returned.
“I’m so jealous. I wish I could run it in 2016,” she said. “If I could run at my peak I’d give up my gold medal without thinking — in a heartbeat, just for the chance to compete at an Olympics again.”
One of Japan’s most recognizable sporting celebrities, Takahashi retired last October, complaining of burnout after failing to earn a spot on Japan’s 2008 Beijing Olympic squad.
Takahashi was also omitted from her country’s 2004 Olympic team — a shock snub that still leaves a bitter taste, despite compatriot Mizuki Noguchi’s gold medal in Athens.
“I put my life into running at those Olympics but I couldn’t,” said Takahashi, whose austere high-altitude training sessions in Colorado became her trademark.
“I would get up at 6:30 and run 50km before breakfast,” she said. “Then another 20km. It was rough but I didn’t dislike it. I had to suck it up. I needed to cross that pain barrier. It was punishing but also necessary in order to win big races. It’s what made me a hero for a little bit. It makes me nostalgic thinking about it now.”
Takahashi, who shot to fame with her gold medal run in Sydney, also hit the headlines for her choice of supplement drink — derived from the stomach acid of giant killer hornets.
“Foreigners always ask about it but it’s not doping or anything,” Takahashi said with a laugh on the subject of the commercially sold Japanese fitness drink. “These wasps can fly hundreds of kilometers in one day. I needed the same sort of endurance.”
Currently involved in Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, Takahashi was upbeat about the future of marathon running in Japan despite the country’s recent lack of success.
“New runners will come through,” she said. “If Tokyo is awarded the 2016 Games, it will give Japanese athletes a massive tailwind. It would be amazing to have that home support.”
The Japanese capital faces competition from Chicago, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro to win the hosting rights for the 2016 Games. The International Olympic Committee will announce the successful bid on Oct. 2.