Boston has the best, the world's most renowned distance runners lured by cash and tradition to the Rose Bowl of marathons in April.
This year, it even has some of the rest, thousands of nonqualifiers having been drawn in a lottery to celebrate the 100th Boston Marathon by starting in the back of the pack, taking half an hour to get to the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., and perhaps the rest of the day to get downtown to the public library, 26 miles 385 yards away.
And there were the Olympic trials on Feb. 10 and Feb. 17, luring all of America's top runners, sending three men and three women to the Atlanta Games this summer. Most of those in the trial fields won't run another marathon for months.
What of Los Angeles?
It gets a quadrennial lesson in the marathon pecking order, competing with London and Rotterdam and Fukuoka, Japan, and Houston and others for the best of the rest of the elite runners, understanding that what is available are runners looking for a qualifying time to secure their spots on their countries' Olympic teams; runners looking for a payday; runners not quite good enough to go to the front in Boston or to make the show in Atlanta.
"This is nothing we didn't expect," said Bill Burke, president of the Los Angeles Marathon, which will be run next Sunday. "Three years and change ago, we knew what was coming."
Tanzania's Juma Ikangaa will be here, and as a New York Marathon winner and course-record holder, he is a marquee runner, as is Peter Fonseca, perhaps Canada's best, Belgium's Eddy Hellebuyck and Poland's Anna Rybicka.
Most of the rest are a compilation of young hopefuls and veterans out of the marathon mainstream, along with Olympic prospects from countries unaccustomed to being on medal stands.
"I wouldn't say it's been difficult. Probably the best word is challenging," said Carey Pinkowski, director of the Chicago Marathon and engaged in building the field for Los Angeles, and obviously well-versed in political correctness.
"We had to do our homework a little more and take a look at the athletes who were available out there.
"Obviously, with the large money posted in Boston, the blue-chip people are going to be attracted to Boston and recruited by Boston, but there's always that next wave of athletes."
Boston has announced a $600,000 purse, with $100,000 to the men's and women's winners, and its chief sponsor, an insurance company, is subsidizing that with a seven-figure budget for recruiting elite runners through guarantees, perks and bonuses.
Los Angeles will give $15,000 and a car to the men's and women's winners. Its recruiting budget is in the low to mid-six figures.
"My philosophy with Bill [Burke] and Marie [Patrick, the L.A. Marathon's vice president] was to put a good, competitive field together, given the circumstances," Pinkowski said.
"Now, if we were going to go dollar-for-dollar with some of the other races, it becomes a bidding situation, but that hasn't been our focus. We have tried to get some good quality people who aren't exactly motivated by the big bucks, but are eager for competition and performance and progression toward the Olympics."
Pinkowski was brought into the job by Patrick at the New York Marathon in November. Los Angeles had used New York's Ann Roberts as a recruiter for two years and runner Mark Plaatjes for two more and wanted to try somebody different. The mission was to get the best available for the money Los Angeles was willing to spend.
It was also to overcome Burke, who has spent much of the last decade mending fences with runners' agents and who has been largely factored out of the equation, with Patrick taking over the liaison work with the runners' federations.
"Agents have called me the black Jack Benny," Burke said. "When I first got into the business, I couldn't believe it was for real. Agents would want $25,000 for a runner, and I almost fell off the chair. I didn't have the stage then. I have the stage now. Now I want to go after the guys who can win the Academy Awards. It may take me another 10 years to get back to where I should be with agents."
Pinkowski is trying to accelerate that process.
"It's almost like casting a play," he said. "You look at the athletes who are available out there, and you try to match them up to create a chemistry to create a good competition. Competition usually creates a good performance, and in any sport, Americans want to see good competition."
If some of the runners are stride-for-stride in the final mile, each spurring on the other to whittle seconds off their final time, then he is happy and so might Burke be, because he is mesmerized by the clock and the record book.
The time, 2 hours 10 minutes 19 seconds, sticks in his craw. It is the L.A. Marathon record, and it is not below 2:10.
"I'm the only one who gives a damn about that," he said. "I go down the hall [at the marathon's headquarters in Westwood], and nobody else here cares, but I do. I want 2:09."