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Weldon Kirui, Nataliya Lehonkova Win L.A. Marathon

It was a Kenyan sweep in the men's race as defending champion Daniel Limo finished third.

Knowledge is power, and Weldon Kirui of Kenya used his previous course know-how to catapult himself to victory on Sunday morning at the Skechers Performance L.A. Marathon.

Sitting on countryman Willy Koitile for most of the last 7 miles of the race, Kirui made his move in the last mile to pull away decisively before the final turn onto Ocean Ave., in Santa Monica. He broke the tape with his arms spread wide in 2 hours, 13 minutes and 7 seconds, while a dejected Motile crossed 17 seconds later to claim runner-up honors. Defending champion Daniel Limo, also of Kenya, took third in 2:13:52.

“I was waiting till 40 kilometers and I was very strong,” said Kirui, a Skechers-sponsored athlete who finished fourth at L.A. in 2013 and second in 2011. “I knew the course very well. When I’m in training I normally stay in the back so I felt comfortable.”

Kirui’s mark was the slowest winning time at the L.A. Marathon since the race adopted its current Stadium to the Sea course in 2010. A casual early pace saw a pack of seven runners together through a 1:07:42 half-marathon split. That pack was cut to four by 30K before Koitile really shook things up with a move to the front. Kirui was the only one to go with him, and was content to sit behind his countryman until he was ready to strike.

“Last year I was injured and today I’m happy to finish in the second position,” admitted Koitile. “At 40K, Weldon had the energy to move and I am happy for him.”

Limo, who fell off the pace just past the 20-mile mark, held off a hard-charging Jacob Chemtai to secure his spot on the podium for the second straight year.

“I was trying to defend but it was tough competition today,” said Limo. “The guys were prepared. I tried to keep up but they were stronger than me.”

In the women’s race, Nataliya Lehonkova of Ukraine and Ethiopians Simgn Abnet and Serkalem Abrha separated themselves early, rolling through 10K together a tick under 36 minutes. Abnet fell off just before 20K and eventually dropped out, making it a two-woman contest for the win. Lehonkova made her move just after 30K, opening up a 10-second gap over the next 3 miles, en route to pulling away for victory in a new personal best of 2:30:40.

“I was just trying to run my pace,” explained Lehonkova, who ran 28 seconds faster than she did in winning the Dublin Marathon last fall. “I wasn’t thinking about winning. I was just trying to do my best time. I was pushing myself and I didn’t look to see if she was running behind me.”

Abrha was second in 2:32:23, while Julia Budniak, a Polish citizen who ran collegiately at USC and has lived in Los Angeles for the last 12 years, ran a three-minute personal best of 2:44:44. Budniak, who was running in fourth most of the race before Abnet dropped out, didn’t find out she was in third until about the 18-mile mark.

“I’m happy,” said the 34-year-old Budniak, who now coaches at Cal State L.A. “I feel home here. I know all the turns here really well.”