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Women's 'Winner' Is Caught Short

THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES MARATHON

L.A. Marathon: Russian disqualified for bathroom shortcut. Morocco's Chaham wins slow men's race.

March 03, 1997|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nadezhda Ilyina won a 26-mile, 355-or-so-yard race in Los Angeles on Sunday.

A few minutes later, Lornah Kiplagat learned she had won the 12th running of the Los Angeles Marathon.

In a bizarre ending to a day of bizarrerie, Ilyina of Russia cut a corner in the race's 22nd mile, saved about 30 yards, but was cut out of the finishing field after being the apparent winner. Kiplagat, a Kenyan running her first marathon, found that she had won $15,000 and a car worth about $26,000 for beating her friend, the woman who shares her manager in Germany.

About 15 minutes before all that, El-Maati Chaham of Morocco won the men's race by six seconds over Tesfaye Bekele, an Ethiopian who wasn't supposed to be there.

And before all that, about 28 wheelchair racers got lost on the course when somebody took down a barricade.

Just another Sunday on the roads of L.A.

Make that another s-l-o-w Sunday. Purists might call the races tactical, but those who watch the clock called the times pedestrian.

Chaham ran 2 hours 14 minutes 16 seconds, the second-slowest winning time in race history, and only 13 seconds faster than Brazil's Joseildo Rocha ran in winning in 1993 in 87-degree temperatures on what was then a different, slower course.

Kiplagat's 2:33:50 was the second fastest of the day among the women, two seconds slower than that of the disqualified Ilyina, perhaps mitigated by the extra distance.

Perhaps not.

"I must say I'm surprised, because I thought I was second," Kiplagat said. "I am glad to be No. 1, surprisingly for my first marathon, but I couldn't believe what was happening."

Neither could Ilyina, who through tears said she had been looking for a bathroom since the third mile and thought she had found it near the 23rd, at a 7-11 gas station/convenience store at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Virgil Avenue. She also said she came back on the course at the same spot where she left it.

TV spotters supported part of her story, saying she had left the race course a couple of times looking for a bathroom that was open on a Sunday morning, but without luck.

Race officials in an accompanying vehicle disputed the ending of her story.

"We lost sight of her, and then we saw her coming under a yellow banner," said Annalee Chandler, who was watching from the marathon car. "She was in third place then [behind leader Irina Bogacheva and Kiplagat], about 50 or 60 yards behind [when she cut the corner]."

The made-up ground quickly helped, and Ilyina passed the other two in the next quarter mile. It hurt, because she lost more than $1,000 in prize earnings for every yard she gained the parking lot.

Ilyina later said that she had cut about 10 yards off the course, but that she had also spent 15 seconds in the gas station/convenience store parking lot, looking for a bathroom. Basil Honikman, an official with USA Track and Field who referees the race, said that the rule requires disqualification if, by shortening the course, the runner has received an advantage.

Ger Wijenberg, Ilyina's husband and coach, said they were weighing a protest of the result. Honikman said they had until noon today to file it and added that the rules had been gone over on Saturday at a technical meeting with the runners, and that a situation involving a service station was specifically mentioned.

Wijenberg also reminded that if there was an advantage, it was taken inadvertently.

"I am concerned about her name," he said. "This happens in races in Europe all the time, cutting corners, but she knew that it was not supposed to happen here. If she cut corners, she should be disqualified, but she was not trying to take advantage."

Bekele sure was in the men's race, and so was Chaham. The two traded elbows, hips and leads from the ninth mile to the finish.

Later they traded insults. They had run against each other before, in Marrakech.

"Nobody likes to be taken from behind," Chaham said.

Said Bekele: "He doesn't know how to run. That is his big problem. He kicked me all the time."

With shorter legs and stride, Bekele managed to stay in Chaham's footsteps most of the morning after the two passed the race's rabbit, Cosmas Musyoka, in the ninth mile.

"He was going too slow," Chaham said of Musyoka, who was signed to do a 1:05 half-marathon and didn't. The rest of the field was slow, too, except Bekele, a late entrant and almost a no-entrant, who paid his way from his training site in Honolulu, showed up Saturday at the marathon's Biltmore headquarters and asked for his room and bib number, please.

Told he had neither because his agent hadn't asked for them, and also told that he really wasn't wanted, Bekele repaired to the Convention Center Expo, registered like anybody else off the street and was assigned bib No. 4045, which would normally be worn by somebody who might finish the race Monday afternoon.

Instead, he inched up through the 19,998 citizen-runners, caught Chaham and stayed with him through the 25th mile, whereupon Chaham found a downhill to his liking and took off.

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