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Men Can't Close the Gender Gap

Kirui wins men's title, but Pozdnyakova takes the overall bonus in Los Angeles Marathon.

March 08, 2004|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

He failed to catch the top two female finishers who started more than 20 minutes ahead of him.

He didn't run as fast as he had hoped he would.

And he struggled in the final four miles of a race that was contested in warm and dry conditions that hampered performances.

But Kenyan David Kirui got back on the winning track in the 19th Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday when he won the men's division with a time of 2 hours 13 minutes 41 seconds.

Kirui finished 3 minutes 54 seconds behind women's winner Tatyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine in what event organizers called "The Challenge" -- a handicapped race in which a $50,000 bonus was awarded to the first runner to cross the finish line after the elite women were given a head start of 20 minutes 30 seconds over the elite men. But Kirui's first marathon victory since November 2000 earned him more than $52,000 in cash and prizes.

The seemingly ageless Poz- dnyakova, who turned 49 on Thursday, earned more than $105,000 for winning the challenge and her second consecutive women's title with a time of 2:30:17.

Kirui, 26, won marathons in Egna, Italy, and Caen and Lyon, France, in 2000, his first season competing in the 26-mile 385-yard race. But his results since then had ranged from very good -- finishing second in 2:09:40 in the 2001 Paris Marathon -- to mediocre -- finishing 31st in 2:27:10 in New York in November.

"I don't expect to win," Kirui said of his first three marathon victories. "But this year, I came back and say, 'I have to do something.' At least not enough to be running a marathon, but I have to be winning. And if I don't have to win, then I have to run good times."

After running 2:08:53 to finish seventh in Paris last April, Kirui entered Sunday's race with the fastest career best among L.A. entries. But Stephen Ndungu of Kenya was regarded as the men's favorite after winning the L.A. Marathon in 2001 and 2002 and finishing second in a career-best 2:09:54 last year.

Ndungu, 36, was among a large lead pack of predominantly Kenyan runners that averaged 5:05 a mile for the first 10 miles. But Kirui and countryman David Ngetich broke away from the pack shortly thereafter and averaged 4:50 a mile for the next eight miles.

Kirui's chances of winning the challenge appeared promising after 18 miles, when he trailed Pozdnyakova by 5:48. After that, Kirui's place slowed, and even though he began to pull away from Ngetich, a cramp in Kirui's side and the heat, along with his string of sub-five-minute miles, began to take a toll.

Pozdnyakova, meanwhile, seemed to get stronger after surging past fading leader Anuta Catuna of Romania shortly after 17 miles.

Catuna, the silver medalist in the 1995 world championships, had surged into the lead during the first 300 meters of the women's race and was on pace to break 2:18 for the first two miles. She began to slow after that and eventually dropped out.

Pozdnyakova, who lives with her husband/coach and son in Gainesville, Fla., for much of the year, said she was not worried about Catuna's big lead because she knew the hot weather would be a factor. "I need this," she said of Catuna's pace, "and I [needed] to run much faster in second half of marathon."

Kirui cut Pozdnyakova's advantage to 4:07 when he passed through 22 miles in 1:50:00, but he ran 5:28 and 5:25 for the next two miles. Things got worse for him in the 25th and 26th miles when his splits of 5:46 and 5:51 were slower than Pozdnyakova's 5:41 and 5:37.

"Yes," Kirui said, when asked whether he thought he was going to win the challenge. "I was seeing the splits of how far they were ahead of me. Something like eight minutes, five minutes, three minutes. I was thinking I was almost there, and then I was thinking three minutes is becoming consistent. I am not closing that gap anymore."

Kirui slowed so drastically in the final stages of the race that Simon Wangai of Kenya finished only 16 seconds behind him in 2:13:57.

Pozdnyakova, in contrast, picked up her pace in the final 200 meters of the race. She raised her arms in victory two or three strides before crossing the finish line more than three minutes ahead of training partner Tatiana Titova of Russia.

"I am very excited about it," Pozdnyakova said. "I am very happy because before Los Angeles, I don't have any races. I am working only for Los Angeles Marathon, and I have a very, very high preparation before this marathon. I never have like this preparation in all my life."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

LOS ANGELES MARATHON TOP FINISHERS

WOMEN

1. Tatyana Pozdnyakova, Ukraine...2:30:17

2. Tatiana Titova, Russia...2:33:39

3. Zivile Balciunaite, Lithuania...2:34:41

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MEN

1. David Kirui, Kenya...2:13:41

2. Simon Wangai, Kenya...2:13:57

3. Matthew Birir, Kenya...2:14:25

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