Meb Keflezighi became the first American in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon, while defending champion Rita Jeptoo took the women’s race with a course record, one year after a pair of homemade bombs killed three and injured 264 at the event’s finish line.
Keflezighi, 38, led for more than half of the 26.2-mile race and raised his hands in victory before crossing the finish line in two hours, eight minutes, 37 seconds. He’s the first American male winner since Greg Meyer in 1983, ending a 23-year stretch during which all but one male winner was from Kenya or Ethiopia.
Jeptoo, 33, who also won in 2006, broke away from the lead pack with about four miles remaining and finished in a course- record 2:18:57. It is the eighth-fastest marathon ever run by a woman, according to NBC.
Keflezighi, who cried during the post-race playing of the American national anthem, said in a televised interview that he wanted to “win it for the people.”
“They pushed me through it, especially in the last three or four miles,” Keflezighi said in a televised interview. “I’m blessed to be an American.”
Today’s race comes one year after the explosion of bombs packed with nails, bolts, and BBs led to a citywide lockdown amid the hunt for two brothers thought to be responsible for the blasts.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is being held at a federal medical prison in central Massachusetts, awaiting a November trial. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he’s convicted. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in a shootout with police four days after the bombings.
The Boston Athletic Association expanded this year’s field by about 9,000 runners, to almost 36,000, to accommodate for runners who were unable to finish last year. The race might be the second largest in its history, eclipsed only by the 38,708 entrants for the 1996 centennial.
For this year’s race, more than 100 cameras were installed along the Boston portion of the route, with 50 observation points set up near the finish line to monitor the crowd. About 3,500 police officers were on hand at the race.
Spectators were sent through elaborate checkpoints near the finish line, every bag and box opened.
Shannon Chabot, 40, was one of hundreds of race marshals who tend to the massive water stations and show spectators how to get around. He came in from Greenfield, a town in western Massachusetts, and, like many others, said it was important for him to be there.
“It’s significant on so many levels,” said Chabot, who is a runner. “This is my sport; these are my people. So anything I can do to be here and help support them, I would do.”
It was 42 degrees in Hopkinton at 9 a.m. for the start of the race. By the time the men finished in Boston, the temperature had risen to 61 degrees.
Keflezighi and Jeptoo each won $150,000, $50,000 less than the top prizes at January’s Dubai Marathon, the world’s richest. They also earned points toward the $1 million World Marathon Majors championship, which rewards runners for their performance in the elite marathons over a two-year period.
Keflezighi and fellow American Josphat Boit led together for much of the middle portion of the race and had a 40-second lead at the halfway point. Keflezighi then broke away on his own, but his lead of more than a minute shrank to six seconds in the final two miles as Wilson Chebet of Kenya made a late push.
Born in Eritrea, Keflezighi emigrated to the U.S. when he was 12 and now lives in San Diego. He won a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
The crowd along Boylston Street, where the marathon finishes, chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A,” as Keflezighi neared the tape. Spectators throughout the crowd rang cowbells as the 2009 New York Marathon champion outkicked those behind him to the finish line.
“Coming from a year ago, this is unbelievable that an American wins,” said Dylan Cormier, 18, of Leominster, Massachusetts.
A Kenyan or Ethiopian has won 16 of the last 18 women’s races. No American woman has won the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach took the women’s race in 1985.
American Shalane Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, 16 miles (26 kilometers) outside Boston, led the women’s race at the midway point and was on course-record pace. She remained in front until being dropped from the lead pack with about six miles remaining. She finished seventh in 2:22:02, a personal best.
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won his 10th men’s push-rim wheelchair race in 1:20:36, while American Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair race (1:35:06) on her 29th birthday. Van Dyk, 41, last won the race in 2010, while McFadden was the defending champion.