The Cherry Blossom 10-mile run will offer prize money for the first time in its 12-year history, organizers said yesterday.

There will be a total purse of $13,400, with a first-place prize of $3,000 each for the male and female winners. The top seven male and female finishers will receive prize money, with the amounts descending to $250 for seventh place.

Organizers also announced that the Nike shoe company has replaced Perrier as sponsor.

Jeff Darman, a spokesman for Nike and a member of the Cherry Blossom race committee, said, "Philosophically, we actually made the decision to go to prize money a year ago. We just couldn't get the previous sponsor to do it. The sport is going in the direction of above-the-table payments . . .

"Obviously, it's going to become harder and harder to attract excellent fields if you're not going to remunerate people with more than just a plane ticket," he said.

Last year, the Cherry Blossom paid transportation and hotel costs for top runners for the first time.

Perrier, a sponsor the last six years, provided about $33,000 in sponsorship money last year and $48,000 total, including product giveaways and runners' consulting fees.

The budget next year will be about $50,000. The race will be run April 1.

Jane Lazgin, special events coordinator for Perrier, said, "It was not a philosophical issue. It became financial. It probably would have required us to double our commitment and we were not prepared to do that."