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Korir repeats winning feat at L.A. Marathon

Wesley Korir loved it when a spectator shouted his name in Beverly Hills. He got a kick out of running through the historic Veterans Administration grounds in West Los Angeles.

Of course, none of the sights or sounds of the revamped Los Angeles Marathon could rival what the Kenyan experienced at the finish line in Santa Monica.

Korir received a hug and a kiss from his new wife after defending his title in the event Sunday morning, winning in 2 hours 9 minutes 19 seconds to become the first repeat champion here since Stephen Ndungu in 2001 and 2002.

“As soon as I crossed the finish line, the first person I saw was her,” Korir, 27, said of his college sweetheart, whom he married the previous Sunday. “That was just amazing.”

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Although his time was 55 seconds slower than the race record he set last year, Korir said the new course could eventually yield a world-class time of 2:06 or 2:07. He attributed Sunday’s times to the lead pack staying tightly bunched until he pulled away from Kenyan countrymen Richard Limo and Paul Samoei in the 25th mile. Limo finished 29 seconds behind Korir and Samoei was 35 seconds back.

“The times were slow today not because the course is slow but because of the way the race developed,” said Korir, who won $20,000 and a 2010 Honda Insight EX sedan after running a 4:56-mile pace.

“Nobody wanted to take the lead. Nobody wanted to push the pace. So it became more of a tactical race.”

Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won $145,000 plus a Honda Insight after shattering her previous personal-best marathon time by nearly 25 minutes in winning the women’s race in 2:25:38. Kiplagat received $25,000 for a time bonus and $100,000 for winning a gender challenge in which she was the first man or woman to finish the race after getting a head start of 18 minutes 47 seconds on the men’s field.

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Kiplagat surged ahead of Teyba Naser of Ethiopia in the 23rd mile with some encouragement along San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica.

“I had one of the spectators telling me, ‘You can make it,’ ” said Kiplagat, who finished 42 seconds ahead of Naser. “That’s when I tried to add more speed.”

Krige Schabort of Cedartown, Ga., won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:31:51, and Amanda McGrory of Savoy, Ill., won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:56:35.

A 21-year-old male went into cardiac arrest during the 18th mile of the marathon and was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where he was breathing and had a pulse but remained unconscious.

“The great thing was that we got to him so quickly, but unfortunately he was in a bad situation,” said Greg Gibson, battalion chief for the Los Angeles Fire Department. “He was in full arrest.”

Gibson declined to give the runner’s name, pending notification of family members. He said there were 111 medical incidents during the marathon, with 30 runners taken to hospitals.

The new stadium-to-the-sea course was designed to enhance the experience of a record field of 26,054 by running past landmarks such as the Pantages Theatre and Rodeo Drive.

The marathon moved outside Los Angeles for the first time in its 25-year history at 8:44 a.m., when the women’s lead pack reached West Hollywood.

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Not all of the elite runners were wowed by the changes.

“Except for the mile marks, the fluid tables and the clock in front of the [race] car, I didn’t see anything,” Silvia Skvortsova of Russia said through an interpreter. Skvortsova finished third in 2:27:20 after leading the women’s race for much of the first 20 miles.

Korir said he liked the course, particularly a quiet stretch in Beverly Hills with beautiful trees. But he didn’t mind when the silence was punctured by a spectator yelling his name.

“I was like, oh, somebody knows my name in Beverly Hills,” he said, later adding that the landmarks were more significant to him than many other foreign runners because he lives in the United States.

Korir arrived in Southern California on Monday, with personal coach Ron Mann in tow to help keep him focused during a weeklong honeymoon in which the runner said he did little besides train and stay inside his hotel.

“I’m not sure I could have handled a marathon on my honeymoon,” Mann said, “but he’s got a special relationship with Tarah.”

Said Korir: “Every time I was running, I was thinking about her.”

Korir checked into a Travelodge in Santa Monica for three nights before moving into the more posh Wilshire Grand in downtown Los Angeles with the other elite runners.

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Having spent time near the finish line proved fortuitous, though, because it allowed Korir to repeatedly run the final few miles of the race.

And he was able to perfectly time his finishing kick as a result, knowing that he wanted to pull ahead of Limo before the last couple of hundred meters because of Limo’s reputation as a track star.

“My goal was before the turn to see the finish line,” Korir said, “I had to make my move.”

He did, providing a fantastic finish for his parents watching their son compete on television for the first time back in Louisville, Ky.

“I can’t imagine how my mom feels right now for the first time watching her son crossing the finish line first,” Korir said.

“That’s just overwhelming.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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