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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Keflezighi Is First Men’s Champion Since 1983

 

Only days after the horrific bombings that scarred the 2013 B.A.A. Marathon, it was widely recognized that Boston residents and indeed the entire running community would turn out en masse to ensure that the 118th Boston Marathon would be a unified showcase of character. What wasn’t known was that the 2014 race itself would provide a totally unexpected treat: the first American men’s champion in 31 years.

With the field sporting 10 men who had previously run under 2:06:57 and with enigmatic Ryan Hall – America’s fastest marathoner at 2:04:48 – still a question mark, the elite U.S. men were given little chance to be competitive deep into the race. Marathon aficionados considered U.S.A.’s 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi – two weeks shy of his 39th birthday and with a PR of only 2:09:08 – as too old and too slow to compete for the laurel wreath against the younger and quicker Africans.

But Keflezighi had other ideas. Armed with a brilliant pre-race game plan, the 2009 NYC Marathon champion ran up front from the beginning. With a break in the 8th mile, Keflezighi and fellow American Josphat Boit shifted gears to open up a 30 meter gap over the African chase pack that quickly grew to 32 seconds by 20 kilometers. Were defending Boston champion Lelisa Desisa, highly-touted Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, and the rest of the elite Africans struggling? Or were they plotting a patented African negative split strategy made possible by the solid – but not scintillating – sub-2:09 pace?

Taking a page out of the Bill Rodgers’ Racing Play Book, Keflezighi dropped Boit when he tossed in a free-wheeling downhill surge at the 25 kilometer mark heading toward lower Newton Falls. The bold tactical move was Keflzighi’s statement that he was “all in” – a commitment to push to the finish line still nearly 11 miles away.

Normally, the Newton hills punish frisky frontrunners who overestimate their fitness. But not this day. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials champion threw down a 4:47 mile deep into the Newton climb to stretch out his lead while – inexplicably – the Africans had not yet mounted a charge. With Keflezighi unfazed by the Newton ascent and with defending champion Desisa walking off the course just past 30 kilos, suddenly the dream of an American man winning Boston for the first time since 1983 became a permissible thought.

As the leaders raced past Boston College and down through Cleveland Circle, it was time to see if Keflezighi could close the show. As he approached the 40 kilo mark at Fenway Park, the American leader – his teeth clenched and his face etched with effort – was taking himself to a very dark place as Kenya’s Wilson Chebet was only 12 seconds back and closing fast.

Keflezighi drew inspiration from the cheering crowd and exhibited renewed leg speed as he turned right on Hereford and left on Boylston for the final drive to the line. With Chebet and fellow countryman Frankline Chepkwony finishing fast, the outcome was in doubt until the final 100 meters. It was only then that Keflezighi – his fist pumping skyward – and the Boylston spectators would know that the 31 year old victory dry spell for American men would at long last be over.

The victor was poised and articulate at the post-race press conference. “I am blessed to be an American. God bless America and God bless Boston,” stated Keflezighi, the first American male champion since Greg Meyer won in 1983. When asked what it means to capture the coveted Boston title in his late thirties, the new champion simply smiled and exclaimed, “It all happens in God’s time.”
 

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.