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Los Angeles Marathon Comes of Age

March 12, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ For 13 years the Los Angeles Marathon has been the relative who’s never been invited to the family gathering when mentioned with other elite marathons such as New York and Boston.

But now the invitation seems to have arrived.

``We’re finally getting invited,″ LA Marathon president Bill Burke said when talking about the shrinking discrepancy of the level of the races.

Sunday’s 14th LA Marathon features five male runners whose personal best times are faster than the course record.

Heading the elite men’s field are Kenyans Simon Bor (2:08:46), John Kipkosgei (2:09:54) and Simon Kirwa (2:10:17), Taye Moges (2:09:21) of Ethiopia and Russia’s Leonid Shvestov (2:09:16). Each is looking to break the mark of 2:10:19 set by Mexico’s Martin Mondragon in 1988.

``I’m not sure what to expect since this is my first race in the United States,″ said Bor, who ran 5k and 10k races before making the leap to marathons last year.

In the women’s division, two-time champion Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya (2:33:50) will try to win her third in a row. She’ll be challenged by Kenyan Hellen Kimaiyo-Kipkosgei (2:29:45) and Alena Peterkova (2:25:19) of the Czech Republic. Madina Bitktagirova of Belarus holds the course record of 2:26:23 set in 1992.

``The reason I like to run here is that the weather is warmer and that is better for me,″ said Kiplagat, who was declared the winner in 1997 after the first finisher was disqualified for cutting the course. ``My muscles stay warmer.

``There’s always pressure to win, but it was worse last year because I had to show that it wasn’t a coincidence that I won in 1997.″

In addition to a growing elite field of runners, $5,000 has been added to the first-place finisher’s prize, with the male and female winners each getting $35,000 and a new Honda Accord.

``This is going to be an interesting race,″ said John Tope, the marathon’s lead athlete coordinator. ``The field is deep and better than in the past so we should have some fast times.″

With the improvements, Tope also believes the margin is closing between the LA Marathon and the three others often mentioned ahead of it _ New York, Boston and Chicago.

``The gap’s definitely closed,″ Tope said. ``We’ve been fourth, but it was a distant fourth. Now, it’s a lot closer than it has been. It’s very tough to displace Boston and New York.″

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