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THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES MARATHON | MARATHON NOTES

For Lost Racers, Map Helps

March 03, 1997|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The men's and women's elite races weren't the only marathons to have controversy. The wheelchair division had its share too.

In an upset, Mexico's Saul Mendoza won the men's wheelchair division after current world-record holder Heinz Frei of Switzerland got a flat tire in the sixth mile. Mendoza had a time of 1 hour 32 minutes and 29 seconds. Ben Lucas of New Zealand was about seven minutes behind (1:39:32) for second place.

But what was most upsetting to the wheelchair athletes was the unclear direction of the course. An estimated 28 athletes inadvertently veered off the course near USC at the corner of Vermont and Exposition.

Apparently, a barrier had been moved for reasons race officials could not pinpoint. One theory was that spectators moved the barrier on their way to watch the runners, not realizing it was important for the wheelchair division, which started 15 minutes earlier than the running portion of the race.

After going nearly a mile off the course--wheelchair racers reached speeds of 30 mph on Sunday--the athletes had to ask passersby for directions.

"Finally, one of the guys had a map of the course," said Mustapha Badid, who was a late entry and considered world-class level by race officials. "I just said no way. . . . I had hoped of finishing maybe third--at least in the top five, but . . . "

To make things worse, the off-course athletes found the barrier had been put back in place during their two-mile round-trip excursion. Also, they found themselves behind the women competitors.

"We heard the men go by, they weren't too happy," said Louise Sauvage of Australia, the women's wheelchair winner. "There were some intersections that you had to choose which direction to go. Sometimes I think officials don't realize how fast you're going. The course was OK, but when you're going that fast you don't want to make that kind of a decision. . . . Of course none of the women went the wrong way!"

All teasing aside, Sauvage (1:49:24) narrowly edged Jean Driscoll (1:49:25) of Illinois to win the women's title.

In the men's race, Frei finished 15th (1:48:17) after getting help fixing his rear left wheel from--guess who--Badid.

"It took like 10 minutes, it was a mess," said Badid. "Once we got it back right, we took off."

Said Sauvage: "Heinz Frei flew past us at 40 kilometers and we were all a bit spun out by that. I mean, wow, we wondered what he was doing behind us."

Any solutions?

Said Badid: "In Montreal and Paris, they paint a blue line on the course that will wash away with water after a couple of weeks. It's a good marketing tool too, because people see the blue line on the course in the days before the race and they know where to go see it."

*

Bill Burke, the president of the Los Angeles Marathon, spoke about a three-year plan to increase the prestige and purse of the event.

One part of that plan would be to hire Ann Roberts, who also recruits for the New York marathon and the Lisbon half-marathon. Roberts was a force in putting together the elite competition for women's field Sunday. She said she will meet with Burke soon to see if it's feasible that she will work for the Los Angeles Marathon.

One thing Burke is considering is splitting up the recruitment into two hemispheres: the Western being mostly covered by Carlos Godoy, who recruited from many Latin American nations for Sunday's race, and have Roberts recruit the rest.

*

Viewers might have seen men's winner Chaham El-Maati take a small white stick from his waistband and put it to his mouth several times during the race. It was basically a sugar stick for El-Maati to chew on and maintain his energy.

*

A record 19,998 entrants registered for the marathon--last year's record total was 19,284--and total of 40,723 participants registered for all the events, including 2,241 in-line skaters for a 10-K roll. There were 12,341 bike-tour entrants, 2,341 for the 5-K and 3,802 for the FHP Senior Health Care walk.

--Times staff writers Jim Hodges and Kevin Baxter contributed to this story.

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