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Meb Keflezighi leads American men's resurgence in New York City Marathon

November 1, 2009 |  2:28 pm


UCLA alumnus Meb Keflezighi, who won the silver medal at the Athens Olympic marathon but didn't make the U.S. team for the Beijing Games, set a personal-best time in winning the New York City marathon today.

Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea who grew up in San Diego and became a U.S. citizen in 1998, became the first American man to win the race through New York's five boroughs since Alberto Salazar triumphed in 1982. In a field with a record 43,741 starters and a strong elite group, Keflezighi set a personal best of 2 hours 9 minutes 15 seconds after he broke away from Kenya's Robert Cheruiyot with just over two miles to go.

Ryan Hall of Big Bear, Keflezighi's occasional training partner in Mammoth Lakes, was fourth in 2:10:36. Six American men finished in the top 10, the first time that has happened since 1979.

"It was such a popular victory because he had some struggles the past few years," Keflezighi's coach, Bob Larsen, said by phone from New York.

"He's been persistent and got rid of all the injuries. He's such a competitive guy. He's still got it."

Keflezighi was especially emotional as he approached the finish line, remembering his disappointing eighth-place finish in the U.S. trials for the Beijing Games that were held in New York in 2007. He later learned he had a fracture in his hip.

"He was literally crawling on the floor, room to room, after the Olympic trials marathon," Larsen said.

The 2007 race also was clouded by the death of elite U.S. marathoner Ryan Shay, who died of a heart ailment during the race. Today, Keflezighi crossed himself when he reached the point in the course where Shay had fallen.

Keflezighi found the physical and mental strength to separate himself from Cheruiyot -- a four-time Boston Marathon winner -- and approached the finish line alone. "Robert had to let him go," Larsen said. "At the end, he pointed to the 'USA' on his jersey a couple of times. It was a big moment.

"He's 34. A lot of guys wouldn't have persevered. This is a big step for him and another big step up for everybody in American distance running. This is the best field they've ever had in New York."

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Winner of the men's division of the 40th annual New York City Marathon, United States runner Meb Keflezighi, center, poses with fellow U.S. runners Jorge Torres, left, and Ryan Hall. Credit: Peter Foley, EPA.

For the record:
An earlier version of this item said the 2007 New York City Marathon served as the U.S. trials for the Beijing Games. It did not. Another marathon in New York in 2007 served as the Olympic trials.