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Kenyan elites stuck without visas in London

February 27, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ From a purse of $354,550 in 1992 to $66,000 plus the requisite automobiles this year, Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon is facing an increasing challenge in luring elite runners.

On Thursday, officials announced that three Kenyan elite runners were stuck in London due to visa problems. Another Kenyan was scratched.

And even though a $1 million national incentive bonus has been offered for any U.S. runner who breaks a U.S. marathon time record, the American field in LA Marathon 12 is non-existent.

This year, however, marks the first entries for male elite runners from Cuba, Chile, and Argentina: Ignacio Luis Alberto Cuba, of Cuba, Juan Nempo of Chile and Carlos Barria of Argentina. Cuba’s personal record was two hours, 10 minutes and 40 seconds. Nempo’s best is 2:18 and Barria’s 2:16.

The Los Angeles Marathon men’s record is 2:10:19 set in 1988.

Running this year is Ethiopia’s Wodajo Bulti whose personal best is 2:08:44, which was run nine years ago in Rotterdam.

On the women’s side, elites include Tatyana Dzabrailova of the Ukraine with a best of 2:27:05 and first-time marathoner Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya, who ran a half-marathon in 1:12. The LA women’s record is 2:36:48 in 1991.

Some critics say elites don’t compete here not just because of lack money, or the new course _ it’s the hurly-burly everyman character of the marathon.

This year, to the shock of the track and field world, the marathon added in-line skaters to part of the course. It already has a non-competitive bicycle tour of all 26.2 miles, a 5K billed as having ``all the excitement without the extra miles of a marathon,″ and competitive wheelchair race.

Up until mile 11, there are centers for ethnic entertainment, showcasing the diversity of the city, from the Guatemalan center to the Sammy Davis Jr. Performing Arts School and Little Tokyo Business Association center.

Those who run for fun love waving to Muhammad Ali at the race’s start and a resounding ``Ali, Ali, Ali,″ chant is always heard after the gun.

Angelenos love it and so does marathon organizer Bill Burke.

``No question every major city marathon will reflect the city they’re in,″ Burke said. ``In New York you see 1st Avenue and the Boston marathon, well, it’s very Bostonian. But in L.A., you look back at the sea of faces and you see all of Los Angeles. This is Hollywood. This is entertainment.

``And frankly, that’s what I want. This is a marathon of opportunity where every runner is a star,″ Burke said. Burke credits this year’s skating event to his 60-year-old barber, Nick Mitchell. The Hollywood hair stylist harangued Burke for three years to add his favorite pastime to the marathon.

Burke added that this was the last year of a five-year marathon planning strategy. The approach will be a three-year plan to Marathon 2000. He said more prize money and rethinking the course could be some of the new goals.

This year’s course has cut out hills near Dodger Stadium, adding a flat run toward the downtown finish. About 200 feet of uphills won’t be climbed.

The prize money here is low compared with Boston’s $75,000 to win, Chicago’s $50,000 and New York’s $30,000. Even Houston offers $25,000.

Winners at this year’s LA Marathon take home $15,000 and a car, with men’s bonuses of $25,000 to $50,000 for beating course records. Women’s bonuses start at $5,000. Elite runners usually can negotiate $15,000 to $30,000 just for competing in an event.

In November 1996, New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. of Boston announced a $1 million challenge for any U.S. man or woman who breaks the U.S. marathon best of Bob Kempainen, 2:08:47 in 1994′s Boston Marathon, and Joan Benoit Samuelson’s 2:21:21 set in 1985 in the Chicago Marathon.

On Thursday, a couple that are good bets to get that money announced they wouldn’t be racing in Los Angeles, but sometime in the fall. Mark Coogan, 30, was a 1996 Olympic team member and his wife, Gwynneth, 31, was fourth in the 1996 Olympic Trails Marathon. Coogan says he’ll probably race in Chicago.

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