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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

No Losers in Women's Marathon

September 24, 2000|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — To a roaring crowd inside the Olympic Stadium today, Japan's Naoko Takahashi withstood a late challenge and crossed the finish line first in the women's marathon in 2 hours 23 minutes 14 seconds, eclipsing Joan Benoit Samuelson's Olympic record from Los Angeles.

Nearly fifty minutes later, Aguida Amaral, a lonely runner from embattled East Timor, received an even more stirring ovation as she entered the 110,000-seat stadium.

She ran the 150 meters from the tunnel entering the stadium to the finish line, knelt on the track, clasped her hands together as if in prayer and bowed to the crowd.

Her expression of gratitude was interrupted by an official, who informed her that she had to run another lap to complete the 26-mile, 385-yard race.

She complied, bowing to the cheering crowd all the way around the oval before finishing in 3:10.55.

Asked later about the lap she was required to run inside the stadium, she laughed and, through an interpreter, said, "I didn't know about that."

As for the crowd reaction, she said, "Yes, when I heard them, I got so happy. It was like a dream."

Amaral, 28, is one of four East Timor athletes competing here. Their country, which has been torn by violence since last year's vote for independence from Indonesia, is under United Nations administration.

Amaral, a married mother of four, would not answer questions about the strife in her country. But in her biography distributed to the press, she listed Xanana Gusmao, a East Timorese independence leader, as her most admired person. She also said she likes cooking and cricket.

On a scenic course that crossed the Harbor Bridge and wound through the streets of Sydney before ending inside the Olympic Stadium, Takahashi ran alone for much of the last four miles until she began to falter near the finish. However, she had enough energy left to hold off Romania's Lidia Simon, who finished eight seconds behind.

Third-place Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya, an experienced marathoner, was as confused at the finish as Amaral.

Chepchumba crossed the actual finish line and kept running, believing that she had still another lap to go, before an official stopped her.

The temperature at the start of the race was 52 degrees, 70 at the end. But the humidity was 91%. Of the 52 women who started, 45 finished.

Amaral was not the last. That was Laos' Sirivanh Ketavong, who finished in 3:34.27.

She was featured in a Times article in July as one of many Third World athletes who struggle to find funding for athletic pursuits.

Until a few months ago, she competed in the same pair of shoes that she wore in the Atlanta Olympic marathon four years ago. An American aid worker recently paid $30 to buy her a new pair.

After the Times article appeared, she received several new pairs of shoes in the mail from sympathetic readers. She ran here in a pair donated by Adidas, which also supplied her with socks and sunglasses.

As she circled the track, also to a rousing ovation, the public address announcer said, "An integral part of the Olympic motto is that taking part is the most important thing. It is in moments like this that that is clearly demonstrated."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medal Winners

Women's Marathon

Gold: Naoko Takahashi, Japan

Silver: Lidia Simon, Romania

Bronze: Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya

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