Marathon ran into cash wall

first_img“They’re just like any other person – if you don’t get paid, what would you say?” Chris Devine, chairman of Chicago-based Devine Racing, which he founded in 2003, acknowledged the delays and attributed them to mistakes his company made in estimating the costs of establishing its new races. He said payments this year will be made within 90 days, or he will pay an additional 4percent. “We ran into a cash-flow crunch, but that’s an old story,” Devine said. “All the athletes have been paid, and we will demonstrate we’ve recovered from that.” Whether the race can once again attract top-flight runners is less certain. The winners of last year’s Los Angeles Marathon and several other top runners boycotted this year’s race because they didn’t get all their prize money until February. Organizers of the event, Devine Racing of Chicago, which took ownership of the L.A. Marathon in 2006, admitted they simply ran out of cash to pay out all the prize money because they launched similar races in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Management of the company was in the midst of a shake-up at the time, but it is now on solid financial footing, the company insists. That was little consolation to many of the top 2006 finishers and their agents, who waited six months to get part of their money and nearly a year to collect it all. “I did not want my athletes in Los Angeles in any case,” said Konstantin Selinevich, who represents Irina Safarova and Mikhail Khobotov, the fifth-place women’s and seventh-place men’s finishers in 2006. Neither of last year’s champions, Benson Cherono of Kenya and Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia – each of whom set course records – returned to defend their titles. Also absent were any of the top 145 fastest marathoners from 2006. Slowest win ever The men’s race, won by an unheralded Kenyan, Fred Mogaka, was the slowest in the 22-year history of the race by more than three minutes – this on a course that was tweaked to make it faster. The women’s race, the slowest since 1993, was won by 45-year-old Ramilia Burangolova, who is 11 years off her personal best. A spokesman wouldn’t say how much money sponsors contribute to supplement the $100 application fee most racers pay, but he said it has to cover the bulk of expenses. While the pool of prize money for the men’s and women’s divisions was cut from $325,000 to $201,000, that wasn’t the reason many stayed away. There was still the carrot of $100,000 to the first finisher – the women were given a nearly 20-minute head start – and a new Honda Accord to the top men’s and top women’s finishers. “The prize money had nothing to do with it,” said Brendan Reilly, who represents Nuta Olaru, the fourth-place finisher in 2006. “It’s all the aftermath of last year’s treatment. It didn’t even remotely cross my mind to send anybody this year.” L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, one of the city leaders who would like to see the race’s profile raised alongside the Boston, New York and Chicago marathons, was dismayed to hear that it took so long for the elite 2006 runners to be paid. “It’s important for anyone who represents Los Angeles to treat people fair and right, and there’s got to be a high standard on the business end,” said LaBonge, who helped design this year’s course. “If somebody is coming from around the world to run through our streets, they should be treated in a respectful manner.” Unlike golfers, tennis players or even middle-distance road racers, marathon runners can’t race week in and week out because of the toll the 26.2-mile race takes on their bodies. Thus, the elite runners usually pick two races per year – one in the fall and one in the spring – to make their money. “It’s not like it’s fun money, like somebody just won the lottery,” said Reilly, the agent for Olaru, who was owed $14,000 in prizes and expenses for finishing fourth in 2006. “This is how marathoners are paying their mortgage, their groceries, the gas for their car.” The major complaint by the four agents is that they never heard when they would get the money. When the checks arrived, there was no explanation for the delay, and no withholdings had been taken. They said Bill Orr, the former elite athletes coordinator, would try to get answers for them from Marathon President Bill Burke or Executive Vice President Marie Patrick, but to no avail. Orr sent an e-mail to agents last fall saying he had resigned after being misled by management. Orr declined an interview request through his secretary. Messages for Burke, who is vacationing in Mexico, and Patrick were returned by a spokesman who said they would be unavailable to comment. Waiting on payments Devine said he acted in good faith, and “we communicated directly with agents by telephone to indicate timelines when they’d be paid and in that spirit followed up with a phone call to say why we missed.” When asked which agents he had spoken to, Devine could not recall. Ratcliffe said one of clients, Paul Tarus, still has not been paid his prize money (about $10,000) from a second-place finish in the Salt Lake City Marathon in June. Salinevich said Safarova, the fifth-place winner in last year’s L.A. Marathon, is still owed $2,700. Devine said Thursday that he would look into those matters but did not call back with an explanation. Joseph Kahugu, who won the $65,000 bonus for being the first one across the finish line at the Las Vegas Marathon on Dec.10, has not yet been paid. “We’re waiting and hoping it’s sooner than later,” said his agent, Derek Froude, who also represents Burangolova, the women’s winner Sunday. Scott Robinson, the agent for Mogaka, whose winnings Sunday are worth close to $150,000, said his client was treated very well, but he’s aware of the past delayed payments. “If a race wants to attract a high level of competition, they have to pay in a timely manner,” Robinson said. Devine said his company, which went through layoffs and a change in chief financial officers, is on firm financial footing now. He says the Las Vegas Marathon has grown from 2,700 to 16,000 runners in three years, and Los Angeles attracted 26,000 Sunday. “This is a growth business,” he said. As to whether the elite athletes will return next year, Devine isn’t sure. “I can’t run their businesses for them,” he said. “If an athlete kept away, maybe it was a prudent decision. I hope it was imprudent. Everybody got paid – don’t be angry. If they’re concerned, I expect them not to run.” billy.witz@dailynews.com (818) 713-3621160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more