Weldon Kirui of Kenya finds redemption in familiar spot at L.A. Marathon
Runners crossed the finish line with excitement at the 33rd Los Angeles Marathon. (Video by Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
In a redemptive push near the exact spot where he faded a year earlier, Kenya’s Weldon Kirui won the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday for the second time in three years.
Kirui, 29, collected the winner’s $25,000 purse after completing the 26.2-mile course that runs from Dodger Stadium to the Pacific Ocean’s shore in Santa Monica in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 47 seconds.
Ethiopia’s Gebresadik Adihana was runner-up despite a desperate final response, finishing 10 seconds behind. Defending champion Elisha Barno of Kenya was third (2:12.47).
“I knew the course. I’d already run those miles,” Kirui said after making his fourth top-four showing in Los Angeles. “I changed my training. I trained very well and proper.”
Ethiopia’s Sule Utura Gedo won the women’s race in 2:33.49 by separating in the final mile from runner-up countrywoman Tsehay Desalegn (2:33.57) and defending champion Hellen Jepkurgat (2:34.01) of Kenya.
Five American women, led by fourth-place finisher Christina Vergara-Aleshire of Nevada, placed in the top 10 for the second consecutive year.
A field of more than 24,000 was entered in the marathon that weaved through downtown — where at one point Kirui and the elite men nearly barreled over a woman carrying mail through a crosswalk — on its way to the beach.
The temperature was a cool 47 degrees at the start, giving the runners a break from the typical March thermometer reading.
Instead of pursuing the marathon-record times of 2:06.35 and 2:25.10, however, the elite runners settled into packs for most of the race, the eventual winners obviously content to lean on their reserves as the ocean neared.
“I learned I must wait, to store my energy and leave it until the end,” Kirui said.
Barno remained close to Kirui through 20 miles; Kirui said after the race that he glanced at Barno and “thought I must win this race after my friend pushed me again side by side.”
Kirui accelerated the pace sharply, and Barno dropped about 30 feet behind Kirui and Adihana as they neared the two-hour mark. The defending champion might have compromised his endurance by running a marathon in Houston in January.
“I was trying to push the pace so I’d leave them, but it was very difficult,” Barno said; he had run a personal-best 2:09.32 in Houston on Jan. 14.
He turned to Kirui at the post-race news conference and said, “Congratulations, today he was a champion.”
It became a virtual sprint to the finish as Kirui and Adihana posted their fastest two miles in the 22nd and 23rd miles, at 4:38 and 4:44, respectively.
Kirui grabbed a bottle of water from a table in the 24th mile, sipped strongly and whisked beyond Adihana, bolting through the 24th mile in 4:55, 16 seconds better than Adihana at the similar point he lost touch with Barno a year earlier.
The women’s pack, loaded with Americans for an extended period, whittled to the three Africans.
Gedo, a 5,000-meter-trained runner whose coach has tailored her distance-running sessions for extreme hot and cold weather, embraced the cool and welcomed the slower pace to set up her finishing kick in the final 2,600 feet.
“I used that speed to win today,” she said.
She described the course’s hilly first half as “very difficult,” but said she kept her eye on the time, striving to remain in reach until the end.
Jepkurgat said she wanted to pull away in the final three miles, but lamented, “Today was not my day. [Gedo] pushed. We tried to push with her. I didn’t make it. Today seemed more uphill, not like last year.”
At the 25-mile mark, she said, it was clear that a repeat victory was not in the cards for her.
“I knew,” she said. “This was really tough.”
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