LOS ANGELES – Mark Saina beat fellow Kenyan Ben Maiyo in the closing stretch to win the Los Angeles Marathon (search) on Sunday.
Saina, 34, earned a $75,000 bonus for his winning time of 2:09:35 as part of "The Challenge," (search) a battle-of-the-sexes format started last year that allows the women to start ahead of the men.
Saina and Russian Lyubov Denisova (search), who set a course record for the women of 2:26:10, both received $25,000 and a new car for winning 2 by Madina Biktagirova.
Maiyo, running in his first marathon, passed Denisova shortly before the 25-mile marker. But Saina tracked him down and surged ahead in the final moments of the race.
"I never expected to sprint away from him," Saina said. "I try to go with the pain, but it was real hard."
In the wheelchair division, Australian Kurt Fearnley held off six-time Los Angeles Marathon champion Saul Mendoza in a sprint to the finish. Fearnley finished third in last year's race
The women runners were given a 15-minute, 50-second head start in an attempt to create a thrilling finish. The men were expected to catch up with the women late in the 26-mile race that weaves through downtown and neighborhoods to the west.
The time differential last year was 20 minutes, 30 seconds. The advantage was shortened to compensate for a stronger field of women runners.
Hellen Kimutai of Kenya and Dire Tune of Ethiopia, who also ran in her first marathon, set a sizzling early pace, breaking away from the women's pack.
Denisova, who was unhappy with the shrunken time differential, overtook the women leaders in the 19th mile, while the men slowly chipped away. Laban Kipkemboi, Maiyo and Saina were the first men to catch the women.
To eliminate the time difference, the men had to slice about 36 seconds — on average — from every mile.
Zivile Balciunaite, 25, of Lithuania placed second in the women's division in 2:28:09. Kimutai, 27, finished third in 2:28:35.
In the men's category, Maiyo finished second in 2:09:45. Kipkemboi ran third in 2:10:50.
Defending champion David Kirui of Kenya did not enter this year's race. Last year's "Challenge" winner Tatyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine finished fifth in the women's division and set a world record for her age bracket (50-54) of 2:31:05.
Greeted by cool temperatures under partly cloudy skies, thousands of runners packed the streets and were urged on at the start of the race by Muhammad Ali, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mayor James Hahn.
Other stars took part in the festivities. Actor Scott Bakula of TV's "Star Trek: Enterprise" competed, and a dressed-down Halle Berry was on the sidelines cheering passing runners.