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These female marathon runners know their place

The Los Angeles Marathon is part fun run, part habit and totally remarkable for its ability to bring out the best in those who run, jog, walk and push or crank their wheelchairs along its peculiar and sometimes twisting route.

Each of the estimated 25,000 runners who started in Sunday’s early-morning sunshine was a winner. It was stirring to watch them cross the finish line at 5th and Flower on Sunday and receive a champion’s greeting, complete with a gold medal and applause from solicitous members of the L.A. Fire Department.

Even runners who were stumbling and gasping those last few feet found the strength to thrust their fists in the air and enjoy a “Rocky” moment.

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Only one person came out looking like a loser.

It wasn’t a runner whose last steps came long hours after Tatiana Aryasova of Russia and Laban Moiben of Kenya had won the women’s and men’s divisions, respectively.

On a day that made a magnificent experience out of a race that’s shunned by world-class runners because of its tough course and small prize purse, William Burke hit the lone discordant note.

Burke, co-founder and president of the City of Los Angeles Marathon, was asked during a Channel 4 interview to comment on the smart race strategy of the elite female runners. They had gotten a head start of nearly 20 minutes in a battle-of-the-sexes gimmick that paid a $100,000 bonus, and Aryasova capitalized on it to hit the jackpot.

Burke’s reply was stunningly stupid.

“You can’t keep those women down,” he said. “You can’t get them back in the kitchen.”

He offered no smile or wink to indicate he was attempting to make a joke. Not even a forced chuckle.

Burke wasn’t available later to explain his comments. A race official said Burke wasn’t answering his cellphone Sunday afternoon, and that’s too bad.

It would have been fascinating to hear what he would have been able to say while his foot was lodged so firmly in his mouth.

The women who ran Sunday proved they were more than able to take the heat -- of the competition and the bright, sunny day.

Aryasova, 28, ran a confident and tactically bold race, taking the lead near the halfway point and never once looking back to see whether any of the men were positioning themselves to overtake her and grab that $100,000 bonus.

For a first-time marathoner who had most often run the 5,000 meters, she was smooth and sound in a triumphant time of 2 hours 29 minutes 9 seconds.

She almost completed the second half of the race more rapidly than the first: Her preliminary time indicated that she had run a so-called negative split, but her adjusted official time showed she had missed that by about a second.

“I was not afraid of the halfway mark,” said Aryasova, the mother of a 26-month-old daughter.

Jacqueline Nytipei of Kenya, also making her marathon debut, finished third. Six weeks ago she won the Carlsbad half-marathon in a runaway. She’s the mother of an 8-month-old.

Amazing what some women will do if you let them out of the kitchen.

It was amazing what so many of them did Sunday.

They ran while pushing strollers, exercising their dogs and exorcising their demons.

They ran to promote research into cures for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer and to promote their own health and well-being.

They ran arm in arm with their daughters or husbands, alongside their boyfriends and friends whom they embraced afterward. They ran for the first time and the 23rd and every number in between.

Like the men around them, some wore ragged T-shirts while others wore high-tech running gear. They held up flags and placards and, to the exhilarating, sweaty end, they held up their dignity.

They helped make this year’s marathon a colorfully alive chain of humanity that snaked its way from the start in Universal City through vibrant boulevards and sparsely populated streets to a deservedly raucous homecoming outside the Central Library downtown.

Three special women waited near the library to honor the memory of a fallen son, husband and father.

Constance Simmons, mother of slain SWAT officer Randal Simmons, his widow, Lisa, and daughter Gabrielle stood in the midday sun to watch the arrival of a torch relay that had been run by Simmons’ fellow officers to pay tribute to his memory.

The 30 officers, wearing T-shirts with Simmons’ image and his call sign, 41-D, handed off the torch every few miles. Each step and exchange drew loud and respectful cheers from spectators.

The honor of carrying the torch the last few steps was saved for Simmons’ son Matt, a 10th-grader at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance.

“I love this wonderful city that he protected and served,” Lisa Simmons said.

The men and women of this city loved him back Sunday. Including the women who don’t spend all their time in the kitchen.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.


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