SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Gebo Burka and Amane Gobena seemed to make their moves to win the 29th annual ASICS L.A. Marathon in unison Sunday.
Running separately, they charged to the lead in their respective races during the 22nd mile along a slight incline on San Vicente Boulevard. Burka won the men's race in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 37 seconds and Gobena won the women's race in 2:27:37.
It only stands to reason, in an unusual way, that they made their charges at that point. The Ethiopians are related by marriage and have the same coach, Haji Adilo. Burka's wife, Sofiya, is the brother of Gobena's husband, Hussein Adilo. Haji Adilo is Sofia and Hussein's brother. They train in Addis Ababa.
“This is my family, but it's also family because we train together,” Burka said. “After that, training is training.”
Burka pulled away from Lani Rutto and held on when the Kenyan tried to challenge him again. Gobena pulled away from fellow Ethiopian Tigist Tufa. Each received $25,000 for the win, but Gobena earned an additional $50,000 by winning the gender challenge by 41 seconds. The elite women received a 17:41 head start.
“Training is a very big group,” Haji Adilo said of his athletes scoring the sweep. “That's why we won this race.”
Burka has been unable to compete for three years because a leg injury. The 26-year-old and Rutto pulled ahead with six miles to go in the 26-mile, 385-yard race, which started at Dodger Stadium and finished parallel to the Pacific Ocean, a couple of blocks from the Santa Monica pier.
Rutto said he felt a pain in his leg when Burka pulled ahead during the 22nd mile. But he caught him with about a mile to go as they made the turn down Ocean Boulevard.
“I had seen him come back and it was, 'Oh my God,' ” Burka said. “I had left him behind and suddenly I look back and he was there.”
Burka, who said it is the biggest win of his career, then began zig-zagging because he said he wanted to be able to see his opponent. But just as suddenly, the former 5,000-meter athlete took off.
“I was thinking I wanted to fight to the last minute,” Rutto said. “But when he went again, at that time I was pushed to my limit.”
Rutto finished 12 seconds behind Burka.
Erick Mose, who won last year's marathon, finished third, 2:20 behind Burka. He said he suffered a sore back that forced him to drop of the pace earlier.
“I decided to come with my own pace,” the Kenyan said. “But I managed to get back positions.”
Gabriel Proctor was the top American. He finished fifth with fellow American Aaron Braun sixth.
Gobena's break from Tufa was permanent. Tufa finished 28 seconds behind the 31-year-old, who finished sixth in the Dubai marathon two months ago.
“I had to accomplish the run and I knew she was slowing,” Gobena said through an interpreter. “That's why I made the run.”
It was her fifth marathon victory. She finished second in the 2009 L.A. Marathon on a different course.
“My drive was the main goal,” she said. “I needed to win it.”
Lauren Kleppin of Mammoth Lakes, in only her second marathon, finished third in 2:28:48. It was an improvement of 14 minutes from her previous best. She had dropped back early in the race but came back to challenge for the lead.
“I knew what I was capable of because of my training and in my head I was not going to finish 10th,” she said. “I wanted to compete and I had to hang on and get to that lead group.”
The temperature was 58 degrees at the start of the race and neared 80 when the leaders finished. Gobena said conditions were perfect. But by the time the rest of the 25,000 field finished, it was getting hot with no breeze.
Joshua George of Champaign, Ill., won the wheelchair race by nearly five minutes in 1:33:11 and Susannah Scaroni, also from Champaign, won the women's division. She crashed after her 1:54:54 finish and won by 6:03. Tom Davis of Fremont, Ind., won the men's hand-cycle race in 1:19:38, a victory by more than eight minutes and Thea Rosa won the women's hand-cycle race in 1:34:59.