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18TH LOS ANGELES MARATHON | NOTES

He's the Chairman of This Race

March 03, 2003|Larry Stewart and John Ortega | Times Staff Writers

Saul Mendoza got back on track Sunday in a big way, winning the Los Angeles Marathon wheelchair race for the sixth time in seven years and setting a course record in the process.

Mendoza had a winning streak of five ended last year when he was nipped at the finish line by Ernest Van Dyk of South Africa.

Sunday, Van Dyk finished second, more than two minutes behind Mendoza.

Mendoza's time of 1 hour 27 minutes 7 seconds bettered by three seconds the old mark set by Switzerland's Heinz Frie in 1996.

Mendoza's previous best was 1:28:43 in 1999.

Mendoza, a native of Mexico City who lives and trains in Wimberley, Texas, credited a fast early pace for his exceptional time Sunday.

"The early pace was very fast for me," he said. "I was really dying, but I stayed with the pack and that helped me" set the record.

Mendoza, born Jan. 6, 1967, was a victim of a polio epidemic in Mexico that affected thousands of babies in the late 1960s. He was barely a year old when he was stricken.

Mendoza won a gold medal at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, in the 1,500 meters and holds world records in the 800 meters and 5K.

He said he plans to retire after the 2004 Paralympics. "I've been saying for years that next year will be my last," he said. "But this time I think it really will be my last."

*

The winner of the women's division of the wheelchair race was Cheri Blauwet, 22, a recent Arizona graduate who lives in San Lorenzo, Calif.

Blauwet got her bachelor's degree in molecular and cellular biology in June at Arizona after maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average. She plans to enter Stanford's medical school in the fall.

Blauwet, a sprinter who won a silver and three bronze medals at the 2000 Paralympics, has raced in four marathons, winning three. She won the New York City Marathon wheelchair race last year in 2:14:39.

Her winning time Sunday was 1:50:06. Finishing second was Ariadne Hernandez of Mexico in 2:01:00.

Blauwet was born on a farm in Iowa. When she was a year old she was left paralyzed when run over by a tractor.

"If I lived in an urban area, I probably would have been put in special programs," she said. "But I was the only person in the whole area who was in a wheelchair. So I never realized I was different until I was fairly old."

Mendoza and Blauwet each won $2,000 for their victories.

*

A record 22,437 runners, walkers and wheelchair racers started the marathon.

The previous high of 22,167 was set last year.

*

Kenyan men continued their domination of the L.A. Marathon by sweeping the top four places and taking seven of the top 10.

It is the fifth consecutive year that Kenyans have swept at least the top three places in the race.

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Romanian Nuta Olaru had the fastest career best of any woman in the field, but failed to finish after straining her left calf muscle in training two weeks ago.

Olaru was among the lead pack of women at the halfway point, but began to drop off the pace at 16 miles.

She ran her best of 2:25:18 to place sixth in the 2001 London Marathon.

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Mary Colburn of Redondo Beach was a surprising top-10 finisher in the women's division.

Colburn, 25, was not among the elite entrants, but placed ninth in 2:55:41.

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