Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 12: On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, an American wins the race for the first time in 31 years. To read other stories in this series, click here.
Meb Keflezighi didn’t even compete in the 2013 Boston Marathon. He was just a spectator. But after witnessing the tragedy of the bombings from the stands, he vowed to take part in the next race in Boston.
In 2014, he was a champion. Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, and at 38 years old, he was the oldest to finish first in 83 years.
“Boston strong, America strong,” Keflezighi said after winning the race. “To come back from what was a disaster to a patriotic day.”
Keflezighi nearly competed in the 2013 race, but he pulled out about a week before because on an injury. Although he didn’t run, being at the marathon was an emotional experience, as it was for many who witnessed the explosions at the finish line.
“We started crying because we knew how many people were there,” Keflezighi said.
Before running in the Boston Marathon, Keflezighi, an immigrant from Eritrea, won a silver medal for the United States in the 2004 Athens Olympics and also finished first in the 2009 New York City Marathon. But he had never won in Boston, finishing fifth in 2010.
With talented Kenyan racer Wilson Chebet in a field of over 35,000 runners, it would be an uphill battle for Keflezighi. After coming in 23rd place on November 2013 in New York, it appeared that Keflezighi might not have a shot to win in Boston. His personal-best time of 2:09:08 was viewed as a figure that would never be something Keflizighi could top.
“Most people thought my career was done,” Keflezighi said. “But you can’t test the heart.”
With a bit of help from the hills and terrain in the early portion of the race, Keflezighi, who had the names of the victims from the 2013 tragedy written on his race bib, built up a lead over the rest of the pack. The spectators, who were in a extra festive mood despite an increased police and security presence, cheered on Keflezighi as he built out a one-minute lead over Chebet between the 15- and 19-mile marks.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” Keflezighi said. “I used them to propel me forward.”
As he reached closer to the end of the race, however, Keflezighi saw his once large-lead shrink. Chebet had cut the deficit from 40 seconds to just 12. But just when it appeared the American might not have anything left in the tank, during the final stretch beginning at Kenmore Square, Keflezighi regained the momentum he lost in Brookline and started to pull away from Chebet. With a solid lead in hand, Keflezighi even looked back a few times to see where his nearest opponent was.
“Looking back is not a bad thing,” Keflezighi said. “It can save you a win.”
Keflezighi held off Chebet as he turned down the final stretch on Boylston Street. As a raucous crowd cheered him on near the finish line, Keflezighi won the race with a career-best time of 2:08:37.
Seeing the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013 inspired Keflezighi to win a championship of his own.
“It was my dream to win just like the Red Sox did, and try to do the same thing for the people,” Keflezighi said.
Even though he had won many races before, this win in Boston was a “dream come true” for Kelezighi. A victory that many said he couldn’t win felt sweet. But what was extra special for Keflizighi was winning the marathon for the citizens of Boston.
“This is beyond running,” Keflezighi said. “I was going to give everything I had for the people. ‘The bomb happened, and every day since, I said I want to come back and win it. … That night I said to myself how wonderful would it be to come back and win this for Boston.”