There long has been passionate discussion over who belongs on a mythical Mount Rushmore of Boston sports figures, yet there can be little doubt in regard to the Boston Marathon that the name of Meb Keflezighi will certainly be at the forefront.
Keflezighi’s epic victory in 2014 not only was the first win by an American since Greg Meyer in 1983, but it revitalized a city still coping with the aftermath of the tragic bombings the previous year.
An Eritrea-born, naturalized American, Keflezighi crossed the finish line in a winning time of 2:08:37 with the names of the bombing victims etched on his bib number. This year, the 42-year-old resident of San Diego is making his final appearance at the Boston Marathon.
“It’s a great feeling to be coming back to Boston,’’ said Keflezighi from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., where he put in the final stages of altitude training. “I always wanted to win the Boston Marathon and so it was a dream come true when I won in 2014. It was a special moment. In 2015, I wanted to defend my title but it was not meant to be. At Heartbreak Hill I had to stop five times. The marathon can be predictable and the marathon can be unpredictable. But the Boston Athletic Association has shown me so much support and I enjoy coming here.
“It is my final Boston and so I am a little bit relaxed, but I think people think that I am going to jog it, but being the competitor that I am, internally, I want to run well. This is my 26th marathon. I am excited. I didn’t think I’d be still doing this at almost 42 years of age. But I am looking forward to competing and I would love to finish on the podium (top three). But I would love to finish in the top 10, too.’’
Keflezighi will end his impressive marathon career when he competes in the New York City marathon in the fall. He was just a tyke when his family left war-torn Eritrea in Africa and moved to Milan, Italy, where they lived for five years before emigrating to San Diego. Meb, as he is popularly known, graduated from UCLA in 1998, the same year he became a naturalized citizen. He was a four-time NCAA champion for the Bruins and established a close working friendship with coach Bob Larsen. That enabled Keflezighi to earn spots on four U.S. Olympic teams (10,000 meters in 2000, marathons in 2004, 2008, 2012), highlighted by a silver medal in 2004 in Athens.
Stateside, Meb won the New York City in 2009 and Boston. He has also finished third (2006), and fifth (2:09:26) in the Hub race.
“I remember when I ran here in 2006. I felt the people needed a victory because it was so long since an American won and I finished third. I went out in 1:04 and came back in 1:07. It was not a great way to finish a marathon,’’ he said. “The people here cheer for me and I embrace it. I often have tears in my eyes. I want to win so bad for the people. If they only knew how hard I train for the race and the sacrifice I make in being away from my family (wife, Yordanos, and three daughters). Life in the marathon is never easy. You need dedication, motivation, discipline, persistence and commitment.’’
And 2014 will always be very special
“I have a warm spot in my heart for Boston,” he said. “It was a special win in 2014. When I met Big Papi (David Ortiz) he congratulated me. When the Red Sox put the trophy down on the finish line, I wanted to do that for the runners by winning. The city needed it. When I come to (Logan) Airport and I see all the sports banners of the Red Sox and Patriots and Bruins, it’s an awesome feeling. I want to put marathon banners up there, too.
“It’s good when the marathon has Johnny Kelley up there with Big Papi and Tom Brady. I love Boston. I come here once a year to race but I often come here for business. I will be back to run the BAA 10K in June and I will bring my family and we will have fun.’’