Elisha Barno, Askale Merachi win LA Marathon, with drama and record breaking along the way
Twenty miles into the 34th Los Angeles Marathon Sunday morning Kenya’s Elisha Barno had already conceded the race in his head to countryman John Korir.
Korir had reduced a lead pack of 15 to three with a 4:39 19th mile. When Korir followed that with a 4:35 20th mile he was flying solo, his sizable lead growing with each step.
“I was already thinking ‘let him win,’” Barno recalled.
Then Barno turned left onto Ocean Avenue for the race’s postcar final mile along the Pacific coast.
“And I see John,” Barno said.
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Barno passed Korir in the final 150 meters to win the closest and most dramatic race in the event’s history that saw the top three runners finish within 14 seconds of each other.
Barno claimed the $23,000 first prize and his second Los Angeles victory in three years with a 2 hour, 11 minute, 45 second victory. Korir staggered across the finish line in 2:11:52 with Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios third in 2:11:59.
Ethiopia’s Askale Merachi won the women’s race in a course record 2:24:1, a personal best by more than six minutes, and knocking more than a minute off the nine-year-old record for the Stadium to Sea course set by Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, the World, Boston and New York marathons champion.
“I knew I was going to win from the beginning,” Merachi said. “This morning.”
Indeed Merachi seemed to be in a hurry almost from the moment the race left Dodger Stadium at dawn. Merachi dropped out of the New York City Marathon last fall with hamstring and shoulder injuries was clearly restless through the early stages Sunday, pushing the pace.
By the fourth mile, Merachi’s aggressiveness had thinned the lead group from nine to three, only Kenya’s Cynthia Jerop and Lucy Karimi keeping pace. Karimi was the big pre-race question mark. She won the 2016 Prague Marathon in 2:24:46 but beset by injuries had not finished a marathon since.
By the time they hit the half-marathon in West Hollywood in 1:13:41, Karimi had also been dropped. Merachi surged in the 18th mile opening a 10 meter gap on Jerop. By the 19th mile Jerop was back at the Ethiopian’s side. A mile later Merachi surged again and this time Jerop could not respond.
“My body was not moving,” Jerop said. “I thought ‘Oh, let Askale win.’”
Jerop held on for second in 2:2:54, a personal best my nearly nine minutes. Karimi was third in 2:26:15.
Unable to compete with the history of Boston or New York, the prize money and world record potential of major European races like Berlin or London, the Los Angeles race been something of a launching pad for future stars like Kiplagat on their way to faster times and bigger paydays.
Kenya’s Wesley Korir won the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles races before going on to win the 2012 Boston Marathon and make the 2016 Olympic team. This year’s race looked like a similar springboard for his younger brother John Korir as he ran away from the field as the course rolled through Westwood on Wilshire then cut through the Veterans Administration grounds.
The first 19 miles of the men’s race had been the opposite of the Merachi driven women’s event. The lead group swelled to as many as 19 runners through much of the first half of the race at 2:17 pace.
I think we were all surprised how slow it was. Nobody wanted to be the aggressor early on,” said Tyler McCandless, the top American finisher at 2:14.57, 11th overall. “We were kind of just jogging along. Some people we’re talking with each other and I was feeling really good and about mile 18 I was thinking all right if we get to mile 20, there’s an uphill I’m going to try and thin this field down and all of a sudden we just took off”
Korir followed his 4:38, 4:35 19th and 20th miles with a 4:44 21st that put him out of sight for the rest of the field as he turned left to run under the 405 Interstate toward Santa Monica.
Barno didn’t see him again until he hit Ocean Avenue.
Two years ago Barno ran down Daniel Limo on Ocean to win his first Los Angeles title. Sunday he felt confident of winning a second title with a kilometer to go.
“My body’s good,” he recalled thinking.
With 200 meters he pulled along side of Korir, who tried to kick but only staggered.
“I see him,” Korir said.” I tried to push it but my legs are not moving.”