Can Meb repeat in Boston? Doesn't matter
By Matt Calkins6 a.m.April 19, 2015
It used to be "Go Meb!"
There was no phrase Mebrahtom Keflezighi would hear more often than that.
Training in Mission Hills or Balboa Park? "Go Meb!"
Racing in the New York City Marathon or Athens Olympics? "Go Meb!"
Fans would shout it whenever the world-class distance runner zipped
by, each cheer serving as a tailwind for Keflezighi.
For the past year, however, they have said something else entirely —
two words the 39-year-old finds far more powerful and inspiring.
It has been 362 days since Meb won the Boston Marathon, and the public
can't stop oozing its gratitude. The longtime San Diegan said folks
will make seven-hour drives or hop on transcontinental flights just to
shake his hand.
"I was depressed and in the dumps, but you pulled me out," one woman told him.
"You gave me the energy to start running again," said a man at a book signing.
Meb, you see, has graduated beyond that of winner, champion, or even
legend. His achievement in Beantown has bestowed him with a more
distinguished title: symbol.
"It's beyond belief," Meb said of the fanfare. "My middle child would
ask me 'how come all the people know you?' And I would explain to a
6-year-old 'well, it's because I run and I did something good for the
United States,' but I don't want to brag to her."
Please. That wouldn't be bragging. That would be the undersell of the century.
Not only did Meb become the first American to win the Boston Marathon
in 31 years, he did it the one time the whole country was watching. A
year earlier, two bombs at the finish line killed three people and
rattled 300 million.
The most high-profile attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 turned a day of
celebration into one of consternation. But then...something awesome
happened. The Boston shock made way for "Boston Strong."
Once the tragedy was processed, the racing community vowed to make the
2014 Boston Marathon the most well-attended in history. In the words
of San Diego's Corey Hanrahan, whose wife and daughter went unscathed
despite being 60 feet from the blast: "They picked the wrong people
when they went after marathoners, because we persevere more than
And if you were to blend perseverance with the American Dream, what
better personification is there than Meb?
This is the man who grew up in war-torn Eritrea and would think
nothing of seeing human body parts on the highway. This is the man who
knew nothing of his racing talents until his seventh-grade P.E.
teacher offered an "A" for anyone who ran the mile in six minutes 50
seconds (he ran it in 5:20), then went on to win the New York City
Marathon and a silver in the 2004 Olympics. This is the man who broke
from the pack in Boston last year, held off a field of runners with
much faster personal bests, and won the world's most prestigious
marathon in a time of two hours, eight minutes and 37 seconds.
Sorry, but anyone who claims that running is an individual sport
failed to see the nation Meb was carrying on his shoulders.
"When the President of the United States calls you to say you did a
good job, you realize you did something special," said Meb, a San
Diego High graduate. "Everything from here is frosting on the cake."
Monday, Meb will defend his Boston Marathon title wearing the revered
bib No. 1. He is not considered a favorite, but whether he repeats as
champion is irrelevant.
He has already made history. His 2014 win is a story race broadcasters
will hark back to for decades to come. Not since the 1980 U.S. Hockey
team beat the Soviet Union has an American's victory felt so poignant.
As you could imagine, Meb's day-to-day life has accelerated to an
all-out sprint. Speaking engagements, autograph sessions, and
incessant interviews rule his would-be downtime.
But asked if the demands were ever more burden than blessing, Meb just laughed.
"No," he said, "I wish I had more time for people."
matt.calkins_at_utsandiego.com; on Twitter @matt_calkins
Received on Sun Apr 19 2015 - 12:54:29 EDT