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Byline: Michael Ventre

She looks like a runner who has hit The Wall, but she looks that way from mile 1 on. She doesn't so much run as trudge quickly. Her body is stooped and her head is bowed, but that just makes it easier to place a laurel wreath upon it.

Lyubov Klochko, 36, didn't just win the distaff side of the 11th Los Angeles Marathon Sunday, she even encroached on some of the top men. When the Ukrainian passed Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania - whom she eventually beat by 49 seconds with her time of 2:30:30 - it nearly created an international incident. Of all the elite runners in the field, it was Ikangaa who boasted the best of the personal bests coming in, at 2:08:00, earning him bib No. 1.

"I wanted to run with a pack of women," Klochko said afterward through an interpreter, "but nobody would run with me."

Klochko - who also triumphed here in 1993 - essentially won the race wire-to-wire, ending up with a per-mile pace of 5:44.3. Her nearest female competitor at the finish was Lucia Rendon of Mexico, who was 4:25 behind her at 2:34:55. For her efforts, Klochko got a new Honda Accord and a check for $15,000 and a lot of media attention.

But perhaps the greatest prize she walked away with was a first-ever berth on the Ukrainian team for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She needed a time of 2:35:00 or better to qualify.

Klochko lives here in the U.S., at least temporarily. She's called Gainesville, Fla., home for the past three and a half months, because the harsh winters in the Ukraine are not conducive to distance running, or even distance sledding for that matter. She identifies herself as a "professional athlete," although her real day job is in physical therapy.

Her coach is Anatoly Strelets, an affable middle-aged Ukrainian who also doesn't speak a syllable of working English. He was prowling the finish-line area like a nervous papa Sunday, although he claimed not to be worried a bit.

"This is the Olympic trials for our country," he said, also through an interpreter. "She really prepared for this."

Presumably, that means hunching over for miles upon miles of roadwork. Klochko runs like a gazelle - a badly wounded gazelle. She always looks as if she's about to be overtaken from behind by somebody fresher.

Yet this is method, not madness.

"Yes, she does look unorthodox," Strelets acknowledged, "but what she is doing is relaxing most of her muscles and using only those muscles she needs to propel herself forward."

Look for a veritable bevy of leaners and staggerers in the next major marathon, because the approach worked splendidly. Klochko did not accomplish her personal best (2:28:47) but came close. She finished third last year and with Sunday's win becomes only the second woman ever to win the L.A. Marathon twice (Nancy Ditz of the U.S. won it the first two years it was staged, in '86 and '87).

You can understand it if Strelets is happy but not as happy as in '93. After that one, Klochko was awarded a Mercedes - and gave it to him. This time, she's keeping the Honda.

They're already the talk of Ukrainian sports, although apparently that isn't saying much. "There is much upheaval in the country," Strelets said. "There's not a lot of attention given to athletes. They don't get much support."

In the old days, they got support, but they also got a few nights in the gulag if they strayed. Under the Soviet system, the good news was that runners like Klochko were supported by the government and given a personal coach and had their expenses paid. The bad news? Freedom, or lack thereof.

"If you were an athlete in the old system," Strelets said, "you had to practically beg to go to competitions outside the country. Now you are free to do so."

But if you do, you gotta pay. Klochko found Asics, the shoe manufacturer, which provides her with a stipend plus bonus money if she wins a race. Aside from that, she lives off the prize money she earns.

Strelets says she is a peach to train. "She's a great person. I never have any problems with her," he said through interpreter Jennifer Latham, a competitive runner and resident of L.A. "She's like any runner. When things are going badly, she needs her trainer to give her support. When things are going well, she's on her own."

While everything went well Sunday morning, she wasn't planning to be on her own Sunday night. In most cities, Klochko and Strelets race from the race to the airport. This time, because they have a good number of friends and acquaintances in the sizable Ukrainian community of Los Angeles, the two decided to party Sunday night and fly home today.

Strelets was asked midway through Sunday's race exactly when he planned to start celebrating.

"I already started," he said with a loud laugh.

That gives you an idea of how much of a sure thing Lyubov Klochko turned out to be on Sunday.



Photo Lyubov Klochko, the winner of the women's division, dinished in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 30 seconds. Gus Ruelas / Daily News
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 1996
Previous Article:MOLINA FINDS THAT RUNNING IS EASY PART\Marathon winner's real adventure came earlier.
Next Article:EDITORIAL\Now it's 'terabits'.

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