Radcliffe rival, Takahashi, left off Japanese Olympic team

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    The runner expected to be among Paula Radcliffe’s biggest rivals for the

    marathon gold medal at the Olympic Games has been left out of the

    Japanese team for Athens.

    In a decision which shocked even the country’s prime minister, the

    selectors omitted Naoko Takahashi, who won the marathon at the last

    Olympics in Sydney.

    Takahashi, a national icon, was the first woman to run the marathon

    inside 2hr 20min, when she won the Berlin race in 2hr 19min 46sec.

    Despite her impressive record, she was passed over because she failed to

    impress the selectors in November’s Tokyo Marathon, one of four races

    designated as trials. Takahashi faded in the last four miles to finish

    second behind Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia.

    It was thought that she would be given the chance to defend her Olympic

    title and Takahashi skipped Sunday’s Nagoya Marathon to concentrate on

    training for Athens

    After several hours of deliberation, however, the selectors came up with

    a team of three and the damning verdict that Takahashi should have

    wrapped up her Tokyo race “more skilfully”.

    With Mizuki Noguchi already selected following her silver medal at last

    summer’s World Championships, the federation picked Reiko Tosa, who won

    in Nagoya, and Naoko Sakamoto, the champion in Osaka.

    Takahashi said: “I had always wanted to go to Athens and even pictured

    myself running there. I have regrets, but I wish all the best to the

    people who have been selected.”

    Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister, said: “I feel sad. Can

    they add just another person by any means?”

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