On an emotional day Monday, the largest field of runners since the centennial edition took the line in Hopkinton for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. Nearly 36,000 professional and amateur long-distance runners took to the roads leading eastward into Boston, defiantly continuing the tradition of the oldest annual marathon in the world a year after a bomb at the finish line killed three people and injured hundreds more. And the crowds gathered to celebrate along the route and at the finish line on Boylston Street were treated to a fairytale ending as Meb Keflezighi pipped an elite field of runners to become the first American male since 1983 to win on Patriot’s Day in Boston.
Keflezighi, who immigrated to the United States with his family from war-torn Eritrea as a 12-year-old and grew up in San Diego, seemed a long-shot candidate for the podium when the race started. He had not been able to compete in Boston last year, and with the Kenyan dominance of the race in the past two decades it seemed unlikely that the stranglehold would be broken.
But Keflezighi has a history of rewriting American running history, 26.2 miles at a time. In 2004 he took silver at the Athens Olympics on the legendary route that inspired the original creation of this mythic event for the inaugural modern Olympiad in 1896, becoming the first American since Frank Shorter in 1976 to finish on the Olympic marathon podium. In 2009, he became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar won the last of his three consecutive victories in 1982. And as late as 2012, Keflezighi came in fourth at the Olympic marathon in London — though by that point it must be noted that he was more than three minutes off the winning pace of Ugandan gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich.
In essence, Keflezighi has been the rainmaker for American marathon fortunes, ending droughts left and right as he notches notable accomplishments. Now he has done the same for the crown jewel of the distance. Not only did Keflezighi end the men’s drought in Boston that stretched back 31 years to the moment when Greg Meyer crossed the line first in 1983, but also the drought for both sexes that went nearly as far back to Lisa Larsen Weidenbach’s win in 1985.
The unlikely winner went on a solo breakaway midway through the race, ditching fellow American immigrant Josphat Boit, and building a lead of a minute over the next four miles on a top-tier chase group that included defending champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia. By the end he would have only 11 seconds’ advantage, as Kenya’s Wilson Chebet bore down in the final mile trying to eliminate the deficit and finally claim his own first victory in Boston. Chebet, one of the fastest marathoners in the world (with four career sub-2:06 victories), came dangerously close to extending the American drought, but Keflezighi would hold on for the landmark celebration at the finish line.
Also notable was Rita Jeptoo’s victory on the women’s side. Jeptoo, the defending champion from 2013, became the first woman to repeat as winner in Boston since her Kenyan compatriot Catherine Ndereba accomplished a successful defense in 2005.
Jeptoo was hardly challenged in her quest to repeat. Sitting back as American runner Shalane Flanagan set the pace over the first half of the course, she opened up a gap in the final miles that put her 33 seconds ahead of runner-up Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia after the trip from Hopkinton. Her time of 2:18:57 set a new women’s course record.