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Noguchi claims marathon gold medal

• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- Japan's Mizuki Noguchi produced a courageous run from the front to win the Olympic women's marathon title as Paula Radcliffe's challenge ended in tears.

Noguchi, the world silver medallist, produced a killer surge up a series of inclines just after the halfway mark to break clear and win in two hours 26.20 minutes.

It was Japan's second consecutive women's Olympic marathon gold, with Naoko Takahasi claiming the event in Sydney four years ago.

Silver went to world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya with bronze for Deena Kastor of the United States.

But it was a disastrous day for Britain's world record holder and race favorite Radcliffe, who pulled up in tears just after 35 kilometers (22 miles) when lying third, apparently suffering from a leg injury.

The Briton tried to restart but then slumped down by the side of the road, sobbing, quitting the race with 6km left.

She had won the last three marathons she had run before Sunday.

The event was staged between Marathon, the village which gave the event its name, and the Panathinaiko marble amphitheater in the center of Athens where the modern Olympic Games were revived in 1896.

Two hours into the race, Noguchi held a 30-second lead over Ndereba and a minute over Radcliffe.

Kastor was eighth at the 30km marker, sixth at the 35th and fourth at 40, easily passing the fading Ethiopian Elfenish Alemu with around a kilometer remaining in the 42.2-kilometer (26.2-mile) race to claim a surprise medal.

But the glory went to the 26-year-old Noguchi, who brought to 13 the number of gold medals won by Japan by the end of Sunday.

The slight 40kg (88 pound) Noguchi won her marathon debut in Nagoya in 2002 before going on to win the 2003 Osaka Marathon.

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