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L.A. MARATHON REPORT

Bonus Will Add Spice to Race

March 05, 2004|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

Twenty minutes and 30 seconds is the head start that the elite women's field will be given over the elite men when the running portion of the 19th Los Angeles Marathon starts at 8:12 a.m. Sunday on Figueroa Street near 6th.

And, for the first time, a $50,000 bonus will be awarded to the first runner to cross the finish line of the 26-mile 385-yard race.

"It adds something to the race," Elana Meyer, a silver medalist for South Africa in the women's 10,000 meters in the 1992 Olympic Games, said Thursday at the elite runners' news conference at the Convention Center. "It's still two individual races, but there's the time to worry about. If it's a slow, tactical women's race, the men are going to catch us."

The average time difference between the top male and female finishers in the L.A. Marathon in the previous 10 years was 19:49. But marathon organizers figured that gap would have been larger if the top man had been chasing a $50,000 bonus instead of running just to win the men's race.

When Kenyan Mark Yatich won the men's division in a career-best 2 hours 9 minutes 52 seconds last year, he finished 19:48 in front of women's winner Tatyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine. But Yatich and two-time defending champion Stephen Ndungu of Kenya were on pace to break 2:09 through 23 miles before they slowed drastically.

Ndungu, who will be shooting for his third victory in four years Sunday, appeared to tire in the final three miles as the course rose nearly 100 feet in elevation. But it was obvious that Yatich was conserving his energy until the final 100 meters when he burst past his countryman to win $25,000 and a car worth more than $26,000 from one of the race's main sponsors.

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Pozdnyakova won last year's L.A. race two days short of her 48th birthday, making her what is believed to be the oldest person to win a major-city marathon. She says she is better prepared for this year's race but refrained from making any predictions about the outcome.

"Sometimes it happens," she said about running a good marathon. "Sometimes it does not."

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