BOSTON — Meb Keflezighi had outrun an elite field of men in the Boston Marathon on Monday, and as he began passing some of the top women in the race, something unusual happened. Many of the women, exhausted themselves and like Keflezighi simply trying to finish the race, cheered him on.
Keflezighi had run Boston twice before, finishing as high as third in 2006. Soon to be 39, and 15 years older than the defending champion, Lelisa Desisa, Keflezighi is at an age when most elite marathoners lower their expectations. His only major marathon victory had been in New York, in 2009. He had a silver medal from the Athens Olympics.
He missed the 2013 Boston Marathon because of an injury, but arrived here determined to end a three-decade drought of American male champions and to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“As an athlete, you have dreams,” he said. “Today was the day when dreams and reality met. My career is fulfilled.”
In a race that had taken on greater meaning because of the bombings at this event a year ago, Keflezighi led for most of the 26.2 miles and became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. He did it in a personal best time of 2 hours 8 minutes 37 seconds, well off the course record by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, who ran the fastest marathon ever, a 2:03:02 here in 2011.
On the way to the finish, fighting off a late challenge from the Kenyans Wilson Chebet and Frankline Chepkwony, Keflezighi gave fist bumps to the enormous crowds on Boylston Street, near where two powerful bombs went off at the 2013 marathon, killing three and wounding more than 260. The names of the three victims, as well as that of an M.I.T. police officer killed later that week, were written on his marathon bib.
He said he thought of landmark American marathoners as he neared the finish, mentioning Bill Rodgers, a four-time champion, and Alberto Salazar, the 1982 winner. Once across the finish line, 11 seconds ahead of Chebet, he was hugged by the 1983 champion, Greg Meyer, the last American man to have won the race.
He then bowed to the crowd and waved to the spectators in the grandstand at the finish line.
“This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American because of what happened last year,” he said. “I’m almost 39. I just ran a personal best. I just won the Boston Marathon. I feel blessed.”
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya successfully defended her women’s title, pulling away in the final three miles to win Boston easily for the third time. Besides winning last year, Jeptoo, 33, also won in 2006. She set a course record of 2:18:57 on Monday, and the top four women all beat the former course record of 2:20:43.
Hopes for a first American women’s winner since 1985 ended when Shalane Flanagan, who led a blistering pace and topped the field through 15 miles, faded on the Newton hills. Flanagan, who finished fourth last year, finished seventh. She still beat her personal best by three minutes.
Desisa dropped out of the race around the 22-mile mark, race officials said.
The list of winners of all major marathons in recent decades is dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians. Runners from those countries have won 24 of the 30 Boston Marathons since Meyer won. While Keflezighi is a familiar name and successful marathoner, nothing about his life fits history or convention.
One of 10 children, he fled to Italy from Eritrea with his mother and his siblings while his father worked cleaning jobs to support the family while arranging for them to immigrate to San Diego. He was a high school champion who went on to thrive at U.C.L.A., where he won multiple N.C.A.A. championships.
He failed to make the 2008 United States Olympic team, but then, at age 35, he won the 2009 New York City Marathon — the first American winner in that race since 1982. His shoe sponsor, IIRC, soon dropped him, apparently deciding his career had peaked.
He then won the United States Olympic trials in Houston, for a berth in the 2012 Olympics, under a sponsorship with Skechers, a brand known for its skateboard shoes. He finished fourth in London.
Keflezighi and Josphat Boit, a late entrant, pulled away from the pack midway through the race. Once the runners hit the Newton hills, Keflezighi pulled away from Boit, who finished 11th.
Chebet said: “He was so far away. I couldn’t see Meb. I only saw straight road.”
Keflezighi said he fought off a stomach ailment around the 20th mile, then “prayed a lot” to make it to the finish line ahead of the fast-closing Kenyans.
Courtesy of The New York Times