Lornah Kiplagat experienced a breakthrough in last year's Los Angeles Marathon, but returned home to Kenya with a tainted victory.
On Sunday, she finally--and joyously--got to break the tape.
Kiplagat, 23, won the women's race in 2 hours, 34 minutes, 3 seconds and became only the second winner to defend a title in the Los Angeles Marathon's 13-year history.
Breaking the tape was especially significant to Kiplagat, who last year, in her first marathon, completed the course in 2:33:50, two seconds behind Nadezhda Ilyina of Russia. Ilyina, however, was disqualified 30 minutes after the race's completion for having gone off course in the 22nd mile and returning without covering about 30 yards of Santa Monica Boulevard.
"It's a very good feeling and it gives me so much encouragement to break the tape," said Kiplagat, who finished 10 seconds ahead of Maura Viceconte of Italy on Sunday. "I was really desiring it because of what happened last year.
"I remember [Los Angeles Marathon President] Bill [Burke] telling me, 'I would like you to come back to prove to these people that you can break the tape.' It was very exciting."
Kiplagat also was happy to collect $30,000 and a car worth $24,150. In her two visits to Los Angeles, she has won cash and cars worth $95,150.
Yes, she loves L.A.--the race and the spectators--even if the city makes her sick.
For the second year in a row, Kiplagat was ill with a cold in the days leading up to the race.
"I was telling her, 'You can't do this. People are going to think you have to get sick to win this race,' " Burke said.
Kiplagat said she also had an uneasy feeling about racing against a field that boasted runners with faster personal bests in marathons.
"All of them had run better [times] than me," Kiplagat said. "I knew I was not so strong as them. I just wanted to do a tactical race and do well."
The race began with the temperature at 45 degrees, the coldest start on record.
Kiplagat and Kenyan Hellen Kimaiyo, who finished third, ran slightly behind a pack that included Viceconte, Irina Kazakova of France, Valentina Enaki of Moldova and Svetlana Zakharova and Tatyana Ivanova of Russia for the first half of the race. Kiplagat briefly moved into third at the 13-mile mark.
She was near the front at 16 miles and again at 19, but did not move into first place to stay until the runners were into the 23rd mile.
"I tried after 20 miles but everybody was very strong," she said. "Then I tried at 22 miles, and still everybody was very strong.
"At the 23rd mile, I said, 'I just want to see what will happen.' I made the move and [Viceconte] was going a little behind me."
Viceconte, running in her biggest marathon, expected the surge from Kiplagat, but could do nothing to stop it.
"I hoped to reach Lornah because I knew that with 1 1/2 miles to the finish there was an uphill," said Viceconte, a 1996 Olympian who won $20,000. "But Lornah was very, very good. Very strong in that part of the course."
Kiplagat raised her arms in joy as she broke the tape to become the first winner since Nancy Ditz (1986 and 1987) to post consecutive victories in Los Angeles. Kimaiyo was third in 2:35:28 and collected $15,000.
Kiplagat said she is looking forward to returning next year for a shot at a three-peat.
"[Los Angeles] touches my heart so much because this is where I got my first victory. . . ," she said. "I feel like I'm at home. I had lots of people calling out to me. . . I would love to come back."
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L.A. Marathon Winner's Circle
Year Men's, Time Women's, Time 1986 Rick Sayre, 2:12.59 Nancy Ditz, 2:36.27 1987 Art Boileau, 2:13.08 Nancy Ditz, 2:35.24 1988 Martin Mondragon, 2:10.19 Blanca Jaime, 2:36.11 1989 Art Boileau, 2:13.01 Zoya Ivanova, 2:34.42 1990 Pedro Ortiz, 2:11.54 Julie Isphording, 2:32.25 1991 Mark Plaatjes, 2:10.29 Cathy O'Brien, 2:29.38 1992 John Treacy, 2:12.29 Madina Biktagirova, 2:26.23 1993 Joselido Rocha, 2:14.28 Lyubov Klochko, 2:39.48 1994 Paul Pilkington, 2:12.13 Olga Appell, 2:28.12 1995 Rolando Vera, 2:11.39 Nadia Prasad, 2:29.48 1996 Jose Luis Molina, 2:13.23 Lyubov Klochko, 2:30.30 1997 El-Maati Chaham, 2:14.16 Lornah Kiplagat, 2:33.50 1998 Zebedayo Bayo, 2:11.21 Lornah Kiplagat, 2:34.03