John Hancock Financial Services, whose sponsorship helped...

John Hancock Financial Services, whose sponsorship helped save the Boston Marathon in 1986 and enhanced an already healthy New York City Marathon last year, will become a major backer of the Los Angeles Marathon, according to William Burke, race director. Burke described it as "probably the richest five-year contract in the history of marathoning."

"John Hancock is involved in the oldest and largest major city marathons in the United States," Burke said. "Now they have decided to become involved in the newest of the major city marathons. Hancock puts us in touch with the elites, and gives us the expertise they have acquired in being with both New York and Boston."

It is not likely, however, that this year's Los Angeles race, March 6, will have any top American athletes, since most are expected to compete in the Olympic trials. The men's trial will be held April 24 in Jersey City, N.J., and the women's trial May 1 in Pittsburgh.

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