The Boston Marathon will walk through the door to modernity on Monday. That's when it will give away prize money for the first time, after 89 years of awarding its winners medals, wreaths and bowls of beef stew.

Boston's injection of money is sort of like the Mona Lisa sitting in a new pose or Fenway Park painting the Green Monster blue.

Is it any wonder that many of the world's elite runners have returned to Boston, after an absence of several years when they turned to Rotterdam, London, New York or Chicago, places where the finish lines were greener?

The favorites are Rob de Castella of Australia and women's world record holder Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway. They will lead a pack of 4,805 runners from Hopkinton at high noon and will race 26 miles 385 yards to Copley Square in search of more than just a spot in Boston racing history.

They'll be chasing $250,000 in prize money in the world's first major marathon to award money equally to men and women. The weather is projected to be marathon ideal: overcast, temperatures in the low 60s.

In 1986, first place in the Boston Marathon will be worth $30,000 and a Mercedes 190. Add another $25,000 for a course record, another $50,000 for a world record and another $5,000 in performance bonuses (based on pre-established times). All of which will be placed in a trust fund, of course. (Winners in the over-40 Masters division and the wheelchair division will earn $2,500 in spoils.)

Most impressively, add it up and you'll discover that a world record victory could bring $110,000 and maybe a tape to pop in the new Mercedes of Zero Mostel wailing about "Tradition!"

"When I first heard Boston was awarding prize money, I was shocked," said Greg Meyer, the 1983 Boston winner in 2 hours 9 minutes. "The [Boston Athletic Association] board of governors had hammered Billy [Rodgers] and I last year for criticizing [the lack of prize money]. They said we were trying to ruin the race.

"Money only decides where you will run. It doesn't decide why you run. We all run to win," Meyer said. "But without [prize money], I wouldn't be here, de Castella wouldn't be here, Ingrid wouldn't be here."

Guy Morse, a BAA administrator, said of the nine-man board's vote to add prize money: "It was a very tough decision. The BAA is very protective of this product, and rightfully so. It's very dear to a lot of people.

"But there were signs out there -- the [elite] athletes weren't coming here. There was media pressure. I think if everybody [in the BAA] had their druthers and the world was the way it once was, there wouldn't be prize money.

"But there was just no way."

Chances are, de Castella will have a more difficult time fulfilling his role as favorite than Kristiansen.

Known for his indestructible style, de Castella enters as a portrait of running power. He ran 2:08:18 in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1981, 2:08:37 in Rotterdam in 1983 and 2:08:48 last year in Chicago. His greatest disappointment was a fifth-place 2:11:09 in the 1984 Olympics. That race was won by Portugal's Carlos Lopes, who set the men's world record of 2:07:12 in Rotterdam last year, but won't run here Monday.

In this 90th Boston Marathon, de Castella faces an international fleet of feet:

There's Arturo Barrios, a 23-year-old Mexican who never has run a marathon but set a world record at 10 kilometers (27:41) in March and is considered young and bold enough to think he can win; and Italy's Orlando Pizzolato, who has won the last two New York Marathons (a 2:10:23 personal best), and Kunimitsu Ito, who leads a group of 30 Japanese runners to Boston with a personal best of 2:09:26.

Then there are the Americans, including Meyer, who hasn't run in a marathon since finishing seventh in the U.S. Olympic trials in May 1984. There is Peter Pfitzinger, the MBA from Cornell who won the '84 Olympic trials (2:11:43) and, of course, there is Bill Rodgers, the 38-year-old, four-time winner at Boston who has been the model of longevity, winning 21 of 44 marathons.

Rodgers, a sort of ambassador for the sport, hasn't broken 2:13 since 1983 and admits, "I can't see myself a force."

Said Pfitzinger: "The only one who I think stands out is de Castella."

Can any woman beat Kristiansen, a former Norway ski team member? Yes, Joan Benoit Samuelson, the former world record holder who defeated Kristiansen in the Chicago Marathon last year. But Samuelson hasn't recovered sufficiently from foot surgery and won't run Monday.

Kristiansen set the world record of 2:21:06 in London last April. Today, she said she aims to break 2:20. If not Monday, soon.

"It's a little harder [to do it] without someone running with me. But I am used to running against the watch," Kristiansen said. "A woman will break 2:20 and I want to be the one to do it."

Runners who may challenge Kristiansen are Lorraine Moller (1984 Boston winner, 2:29:28) and Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands.

"I was hoping for good competition, but I don't think anyone will push me now," Kristiansen said. "So I will have to watch the men."