Blind Japanese runner Yuichi Takahashi won the Paralympic marathon yesterday in Athens, unsure of his victory until well after he finished his race along the ancient course.

Takahashi, running with a guide, was timed in 2 hours 44 minutes 24 seconds in an event featuring athletes from five disabled categories. He beat world record holder Carlos Ferreira of Portugal, who finished in 2:45:07. Andrea Cionna of Italy was third in 2:49:59.

"I thought I'd come second," Takahashi, blinded by illness as a teenager, said laughing, with sighted guide Takashi Nakata standing beside him. "Twenty minutes later, they told me I was the champion."

With hands joined by a loop of string, the runners follow the fabled route to Athens from the town of Marathon, a grueling 26.2-mile run with almost no flat ground.

Ildar Pomykalov of Russia scored an easy victory in the partially sighted runners' race. He finished in 2:38:45, ahead of Daniell Roy of Australia and Linas Balsys of Lithuania.

Australian Kurt Fearnley clocked the fastest time of three wheelchair categories -- 1:25:37. Wheelchair racer Kazu Hatanaka of Japan won the women's race in 1:49:26. . . .

A cyclist and two weightlifters were stripped of their medals at the Athens Paralympics because of failed drug tests, officials said. Vladislav Janovjak, a visually impaired cyclist from Slovakia, lost his silver medal from the men's tandem event when his pilot, Juraj Petrovic, tested positive.

Weightlifters Ali Hosseini of Iran and Youssef Cheikh Younes of Syria had to give up bronze medals after each tested positive for steroids. Another weightlifter, Alexandr Koroljov of Estonia, was disqualified and faces a two-year ban. Seven athletes have tested positive at the Paralympics, which close tomorrow. . . .

Philip Metto of Kenya won the Mexico City Marathon, covering the route at an altitude of 7,350 feet in 2:18:14. Countryman Nyamoki Charles was second in 2:20:16, followed by Jesus Capula of Mexico in 2:20:32. Albina Gallyamova of Russia captured the women's title in 2:43:17. The winners earned $13,150.

* COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Senior defensive end Chris Canty will sit out Virginia's Oct. 7 game against Clemson and could be sidelined longer by the knee injury he suffered in Saturday's 31-10 win against Syracuse, Coach Al Groh said yesterday evening.

Canty, a potential all-American who is arguably Virginia's best defensive player, underwent an MRI exam yesterday but results were unavailable. He went down with about 71/2 minutes left in the game while making the last of his seven tackles.

Kwakou Robinson, a 327-pound junior, is the leading candidate to start in his absence, but redshirt freshmen Chris Johnson and Allen Billyk and freshman Chris Long also will get more turns in practice. . . .

Nevada-Las Vegas Coach John Robinson, 69, will retire at the end of the season because of family issues, leaving with one year left on his contract.

"I just feel like it's time," Robinson said. "I've been thinking about it for a while. . . . There are some ongoing health issues in my family that are not going away."

The Runnin' Rebels are 0-4 after a 31-21 loss to Utah State on Saturday.

Robinson, who had two coaching stints at Southern California and another with the Los Angeles Rams, is 26-37 in six season with UNLV. He is 18th among active coaches in Division I-A with a .641 winning percentage (130-72-4). With USC, Robinson was 104-35-4, leading the Trojans to three Rose Bowls, and a co-national championship in 1978.

* SOCCER: Valencia and FC Barcelona pulled ahead in the Spanish league with easy wins, while Arsenal stretched its unbeaten streak to 47 games in England.

But in Italy, Juventus was surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by Palermo -- ending the league leader's three-game winning streak to start the season.

Defending champion Valencia got goals from Vicente Rodriguez and Stefano Fiore to beat Racing Santander, 2-0. Barcelona kept pace by downing Mallorca, 3-1. Samuel Eto'o scored two goals and Henrik Larsson added the other. Valencia and Barcelona are 4-0-1 for 13 points.

Defending English Premier League champion Arsenal got a goal from Ashley Cole to beat Manchester City for the 11th straight time, 1-0.

* HORSE RACING: Artie Schiller won the Grade II, $200,000 Jamaica Handicap in a course-record time of 1:452/5 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., his fifth win in seven starts this year. . . .

In Oceanport, N.J., Sur La Tete ran away with the $75,000 Metcalf Memorial Steeplechase at Monmouth Park, posting a 12-length win in the Grade II stakes race. The card concluded Monmouth Park's 87-day meeting, which saw substantial gains in wagering and attendance.

-- From News Services