An American is not supposed to win the Boston Marathon. A runner well past his prime at nearly 40 years of age is not supposed to win, either. When 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi put all that aside to win Monday’s Boston Marathon, he had people asking, “Was an American victory, just when it was needed most, heaven sent?
The victory was certainly miraculous. The last American to win the Boston Marathon was Greg Meyer, back in 1983. Runners from Kenya have dominated the event in recent years. In the previous 23 marathons dating back to 1991, Kenyans have finished first 19 times.
This year was different in several ways. The memory of last year’s bombing that killed four and injured 264 people was fresh in the minds of every race participant and on-looker. The eyes of an entire nation were on Boston and its people who had rallied around the slogan “Boston Strong.” That an American won the event appeared to be something right out of a Hollywood movie script. It seemed even more so when Keflezighi revealed that he had written the names of the people killed in last year’s terrorist bombing on his racing bib. He told race officials afterward that the victims had inspired him. He said he was thinking about them toward the end of the race and “they helped carry me through.” He told a reporter that he “takes pride” in being an American.
Keflezighi’s family came to the United States from the African nation of Eritrea when he was 12. When they settled in San Diego he spoke no English and had never raced before. He took up running in high school and earned a full scholarship to U.C.L.A. He became a U.S. citizen in 1998 and represented his new country in three Olympics, bringing home silver in 2004. He became the first American to win the New York Marathon in 27 years when he finished first in 2009.
At 38 years of age, however, Keflezighi had lost his Nike shoe sponsorship, and most people thought he had hit the proverbial wall of his racing career. No one told Keflezighi, however, and with the nation’s eyes on the Boston Marathon, he had people asking if an American victory was truly heaven sent.
Keflezighi had been running with his American countryman Josphat Boit for the first half of the race. He broke away from Boit and had a full minute lead over the other runners by mile 17. With three miles to go in the race, Kenyan Wilson Chebet began to close the gap. Keflezighi held him off, looking back over his shoulder and pumping his fist as the crowds cheered him on.
At the end of the race, Chebet finished second, 11 seconds behind Keflezighi’s winning time of 2:08:37. When he crossed the finish line, Keflezighi threw his arms in the air and then knelt down to kiss the pavement three times. Overcome by emotion, he began to cry with joy.
Many on-lookers felt the same joy. On a weather perfect day, the Boston Marathon was made even more ideal by an American victory that had many asking if it was heaven sent.
Commentary by B. David Warner