On the first Sunday of March every year, the streets around the Coliseum echo with the strains of the signature song of the L.A. Marathon--Randy Newman's, "I Love L.A." Played in a continuous blare at the start, the song remained for most of the 20,000 runners more a suggestion than declaration.
For John Treacy of Ireland and Madina Biktagirova of Belarus--the male and female winners of Sunday's seventh race--the song became an ode to their new favorite town. Each said they had enjoyed everything about Los Angeles--especially the winning.
Treacy won the men's race in a respectable time of 2 hours 12 minutes 29 seconds, and also took home $20,000 for first place, an automobile and a $10,000 bonus for running faster than 2:13.
"I've had such great memories of L.A.," Treacy said. "Things go well for me here. Now, it's my town."
It is also Biktagirova's town. She shattered the course record with a 2:26:23. The record of 2:29:38 had been set last year by Cathy O'Brien.
It was Biktagirova's first time in L.A.; she skipped the '84 Olympics because of the Soviet-led boycott. Her first impressions are favorable--on Sunday she took home more money in one day than she had earned in her entire running career, $20,000, a car, a $10,000 bonus for breaking the course record and $35,000 for breaking 2:27.
On the subject of money, Biktagirova broke with big-time running decorum, which calls for winners to feign nonchalance at earning thousands of dollars at one pop. "I don't do it for the money," is the standard reply under the circumstances.
The newly minted capitalist fairly shrieked when handed the keys to her new automobile, undaunted by the fact that she has no license and doesn't know how to drive. As for the money, Biktagirova said through an interpreter: "It's fantastic. It's unbelievable to me."
But for Biktagirova, the best bonus of the day was making the Olympic team for the Commonwealth of Independent States. Seven women from the former Soviet Union had set up an intense training camp for six weeks in Florida, each with the knowledge that only the top three CIS runners would qualify for the Olympic team.
That incentive helped to make the women's race the fastest and most competitive in the L.A. Marathon's history. The top four women finishers were sub 2:30.
Until last year, no woman had ever run faster than 2:32 on L.A.'s deceptively hilly course.
Also making the CIS Olympic team was Russia's Ramilia Burangulova, who was second in 2:28:12 and Russia's Valentina Egorova, who was fourth in 2:29:41. Kerstin Pressler of Germany was third in 2:29:40.
Many of the elite men were also racing for an Olympic berth. Few made it. Treacy had already made the Irish Olympic team. Second-place finisher Joseildo Rocha of Brazil had to run 2:11:28 to make his country's team. He ran 2:12:54. Peter Renner, a logging contractor from Christchurch, New Zealand, was third in 2:14:13.
While Treacy made a move shortly after the halfway point and pulled away, the women's race was tight most of the way. The top three CIS runners took off in a pack from the start and matched stride for stride through the race's difficult early portions.
The weather never became a factor as feared, with neither the rain that had been forecast nor traces of the heat from earlier in the week. Temperatures hovered at 64 degrees at the morning start and, while rising to 69 degrees an hour into the race, the sun was hidden by clouds throughout the day.
The hottest aspect of the race was the women's early pace, which left the bulk of the pack lagging far behind. The pace was fast, even for Biktagirova, whose previous best had been 2:32:30. Still, the 27-year-old ran steadily, often glancing at her watch, adjusting her glasses and modestly waving to the crowds.
Biktagirova, whose speed was demonstrated by her time of 1:11 at a recent half-marathon, simply poured it on and left a strung out pack behind.
As she ran through the rowdy finish line chute, Biktagirova beamed and waved and draped the finish line tape around her neck, as a cherished prize. Later she removed the white terry-cloth headband she had worn during the race, which bore the legend, "Washington State Potato Head."
Later she raved about her new favorite city. "It's my first visit to the United States," she said. "I appreciate the hospitality. I'm looking forward to coming back next year."
She walked away, but had not stopped smiling.
Treacy's fond memories of the city began when he won a silver medal in the marathon in the 1984 Olympics, his first race ever at the distance. Since then he has come to town to run indoors and in various road races, always doing well enough. No disasters.
But Treacy, 34, seemed to have bad luck in other races in other cities. He said his confidence had been on the wane in recent years. Treacy was doing fine, but he was searching for something in his running.