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Fatuma Sado crosses finish line first in dry, blustery L.A. Marathon

Ethiopia native wins gender challenge bonus that includes 17-plus-minute head start for women, at 2:25.39. Kenyan Simon Njoroge wins men's race in 2:12:12 as runners battle cold winds.

March 18, 2012|By Baxter Holmes
  • Fatuma Sado crosses the finish line and is greeted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa during Sunday's Honda L.A. Marathon.
Fatuma Sado crosses the finish line and is greeted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

At the beginning of her fourth marathon Sunday, 20-year-old Fatuma Sado liked the weather, which was nicer than expected, and her pace, which wouldn't be matched.

The Ethiopia native dominated the 27th annual L.A. Marathon, posting a winning time of 2 hours 25 minutes 39 seconds, the fourth-fastest finish in race history and more than two minutes ahead of her personal record.

"I am successful running marathons because I train with elite Ethiopian marathoners," she said through an interpreter after earning her second marathon win, following her debut win in Hamburg, Germany, last May.

Sado crossed the finish line ahead of Simon Njoroge, the 31-year-old Kenyan who won the men's race in 2:12:12, his seventh marathon win and sixth in his last nine.

Because she was the first runner — male or female — across the line, Sado, who has finished no worse than second in any of her four marathons, won the $100,000 gender challenge bonus. The women had a 17-minute 31-second head start, a time based on the differences in lifetime finishes among elite male and female runners.

Both runners also won $25,000 for their respective first-place finishes plus a new car, valued at about $30,000.

For Sado, the only issues she faced were a little bit of pain in her left leg early on, blustery conditions late and the issue of tabulating how far along she was in the 26.2-mile race from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica.

She said she does not "know how to count by mileage. All the time [I] go by kilometers," she said.

The nearly 23,000 entrants, who made up the eighth-largest field in the event's history, were spared the rain that had been in the forecast, but they did face cold, windy conditions, especially near the race's end at the ocean.

The sun came out about 8 a.m., about the time Sado began to separate herself from the women's field.

She took a lead in the seventh mile, broke away in the 12th and continued to widen the gap from there.

Sado was on pace to shatter the women's course record of 2:25:10, set by Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia in 2006.

But she began to slow during an uphill climb in the 21st mile, though not enough for anyone to catch her.

She led the final 20 miles, affected only by wind blowing inland off the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.

"That is why I did not get so good of time," she said.

It didn't stop her from finishing first. Misiker Mekonnin, an Ethiopia native who lives in Albuquerque, finished behind her at 2:28:09 and Yeshimebet Tadesse of Ethiopia finished third at 2:30:46.

The women now hold a 5-4 edge in the marathon's gender challenge bonus. Neither gender has won two challenges in a row.

The men's elite runners were on pace to overtake the women early.

"From the first kilometer, we tried to push the pace up to try to catch the girls' leader," Njoroge said.

But in the 22nd mile, Njoroge, who took his first lead in the 15th mile and dueled with fellow Kenyan runner Weldon Kirui for several miles, realized Sado couldn't be caught.

So, he broke away from Kirui and, as he said, "went for the win."

Kirui finished second in 2:13:40 and Stephen Muange of Kenya finished third in 2:13:50.

Runner-ups were awarded $12,500, third place $10,000, fourth place $5,000, and fifth place earned $2,500.

Krige Schabort, 48 of Cedartown, Ga., won the men's wheelchair division for the third consecutive year, posting a finishing time of 1:39:53. Shirley Reilly, 26, of Tucson won the women's division for the second consecutive year and third overall, finishing in 1:57:09.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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