L.A. Marathon More Credible With New Sponsor


The Los Angeles Marathon, long disparaged in elite runners’ circles for a carnival atmosphere not considered conducive to serious competition, will receive a boost today with the announcement of a new sponsor.

Saucony, a 100-year-old athletic shoe and apparel company in Peabody, Mass., has signed on for five years, and the money from the deal will be plowed back into the marathon.

Prize money for this year’s race, March 29, will be doubled, to $150,000.

“After last year’s race, I sat down with Marie [Patrick, the marathon’s vice president] and said, ‘If we don’t get more serious about the race, we’re going to lose the sports section,’ ” said Bill Burke, the race’s president and owner.


“We either had to restructure the budget or sit down with some major sponsors [to get better runners].”

The race had a record 19,998 entrants last year, and the winning time was 2 hours 14 minutes 16 seconds, by El-Maati Chaham of Morocco. Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya ran 2:33:50 in the women’s division and was declared the winner after Nadezhda Ilyina of Russia was disqualified for leaving the course in the 22nd mile.

Both times are considered pedestrian in elite runners’ circles, and are a product of a bargain-basement approach to recruiting top-echelon athletes.

That is changing with the addition of Ann Roberts, who is signing elite runners for Los Angeles as she has for many years for the New York Marathon. And it is also changing with the addition of Saucony’s runners, among whom are Kiplagat and Simon Lopuyet, who has run 2:08:27.

Burke said Los Angeles was embarking on a five-year plan to become one of the world’s best marathons.

“The first year, we are doubling the prize money,” he said. “Next year, we will increase the appearance money [necessary to lure elite athletes] and then the third year, we will increase both.”


Plans for Years 4 and 5 have yet to be revealed.

In the mating of the Los Angeles Marathon and Saucony, Burke said, “We got lucky. I wish I could say it was a brilliant stroke of genius by Burke, but they were looking for a major city event that did not have an identification with a shoe company.”

Saucony has long sponsored shorter races and triathlons and was looking to move into the land of Nike, which sponsors the New York Marathon, and Adidas, which sponsors the Boston Marathon.

“We’re a kind of David in a world of Goliaths, and we started taking a look at different races about eight months ago, and liked Los Angeles,” said Art Rogers, the company’s vice president of marketing. “It’s the first major marathon of the year, and we believe it’s a race that has been overlooked by other athletic companies.

Rogers added that four to six Saucony runners are expected to compete in Los Angeles.

In another attempt to make the Los Angeles Marathon a more serious event, Burke said that the in-line skating race, a popular feature among participants but disparaged by runners, was being dropped.