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LOS ANGELES MARATHON : Who Was That Man? Simply an Angel : Running: Unheralded Hollywood Hills marathoner stays with women's winner Prasad for 24 miles as she runs her best race.

March 06, 1995|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She never even knew his name.

He was her bodyguard, her water boy, her coach. He did everything but hold Nadia Prasad'shand for all but the final two miles in Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon.

Then, when the finish line loomed ahead, he told her to sprint there without him. Go for it, he said. Glory awaits.

And so, women's champion Nadia Prasad strutted into a crown of olive branches, a loudspeaker screaming her name, fans cheering and banging the fences, the rain seeminglyfalling everywhere but upon her frizzy red hair.

About three minutes later, Jorge Marquez finished, alone, clutching at the air and a small bag of potato chips.

The only shouting was by him, for food and warmth.

"God, it's so cold. . . . I'm so hungry," he said.

At her news conference later, Prasad was asked the name of this man who had done so much for so little.

She could not answer.

"I don't even know this person," she said.

But, she added, "He helped out."

He did more than that. He offered so much assistance that Prasad's race might have been illegal, except no other women runners protested.

Because after six miles, no other women were close enough to tell.

"Even if I didn't have anybody next to me, I could have done it myself," Prasad protested. "I was motivated enough to do it."

But according to Marquez, a teacher's assistant from Hollywood Hills who recognized Prasad from a newspaper photograph, he did two things that broke USA Track & Field's illegal assistance rules:

--He gave her water.

--He ran in front of her to block the wind.

"Yeah, I gave her water, I paced her, I blocked her wind. . . . all I wanted to do was help," said Marquez, 28. "This was a training run for me. A bigger deal for her. We're all in this together."

Mark Winitz, a member of the USATF's men's long distance running committee, expectsno action will be taken against Prasad.

"For one thing, there has to be a protest, and we have no protest," he said. "Also, in a race of this length, it is difficult to prove that something occurred during one point."

While Prasad said she didn't even talk to Marquez until the eight or nine-mile marker, hesaid he spoke to her at the start.

Fresh from a victory in a local 10-kilometer run Saturday, Marquez said he was merely using Sunday's race as training for the upcoming inaugural Disneyland Marathon.

When he saw Prasad, he said, he was reminded of his role in the 1991 race, when hehelped Cathy O'Brien during her victory.

"We went dancing afterward," he said. "I like doing these things."

Marquez said he asked Prasad for her plan and she told him she wanted to break 2 hours 30 minutes.

"So I told her I would help her," he said. "She had no idea who I am. Still doesn't.But this sort of thing, it happens all the time."

Soon Marquez found himself running much faster than planned. By the time they reached the 24-mile mark, he told her to leave him behind.

By then, this man with the scraggly black hair and black tights down only one leg was such a fixture at Prasad's side that television viewers phoned the station and asked that he be identified.

Nadia Prasad, who finished 12 seconds faster than 2:30, still doesn't know Jorge Marquez's name. Even at the news conference, she never asked for it.

But she better know his bib number. Because for somebody in the process of performing M*A*S*H duties, that number was perfect.

Yep. 4077.

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