Published May 12, 2014 8:00 AM
UCLA alumnus Meb Keflezighi came back to UCLA to celebrate his victory in the Boston Marathon with his Bruin coach and members of the cross-country and track teams.
Once he got back to UCLA, Meb Keflezighi ’99 finally exhaled.
Becoming the first American male to win the Boston Marathon since 1981 had set off a whirlwind of media attention for him. After the event he did 25 live television interviews, appeared on the cover of thousands of newspapers and magazines and was recognized and stopped by admiring fans wherever he went. In one week alone, he threw out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game, was feted at a Los Angeles Clippers game and honored in his adopted hometown of San Diego. (Keflezighi and his family emigrated from the East African country Eritrea.)
And at the end of that week, he came home to UCLA, where he enrolled 20 years ago and won four NCAA titles. He was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
In front of a packed press room in the Morgan Center — where the audience included a number of athletes from UCLA’s current cross-country and track teams and his former UCLA coach Bob Larsen — Keflezighi accepted a Certificate of Achievement, an award that recognizes “the best that a Bruin can be in their chosen endeavor,” a men’s basketball jersey with his name on it and a crystal statuette of Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success to signify his reaching his own “pinnacle of success.”
“Wow, it’s such an honor to be a Bruin,” Keflezighi said. “To get mentioned along with Coach Wooden … ” At that point, overcome with emotion, he simply let out a deep sigh, a breath he seemed to have been holding since the race ended.
Keflezighi says he thought about winning the Boston Marathon for an entire year, recalling that the 2013 race was marred by the tragedy of the infamous bombing at the finish line. He watched the Boston Red Sox win the 2013 World Series and saw what that meant to the city. Then he thought, “I wanted to do that for the runners.” Keflezighi, who won a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics and won the 2009 New York Marathon, says the Boston Marathon win is the most significant of his career.
In describing the race, Keflezighi, whose 16th mile was run in a blistering 4:31, says he looked over his shoulder at mile 22 and noticed another runner about 15 seconds behind. Keflezighi waited until the final turn on to Boylston Street — when the trailing runner would momentarily lose sight of him — and sprinted through the turn to increase his lead, putting both literal and psychological distance between himself and his nearest competitor.
With the crowd chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” throughout the final miles, Keflezighi held on to win in a time of 2:08:37. “I used the crowd to pull me away,” Keflezighi says. “God gave me the strength of the (bombing) victims. As Bruins, we dig deep. We fight, fight, fight.”