By Scott Malone, Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) – Meb Keflezighi on Monday became the first U.S. male athlete to win the Boston Marathon in three decades, an emotional performance in a city still recovering from last year’s fatal bombing attack on the world-renowned race.
Keflezighi, who was born in Eritrea but is now a U.S. citizen, pulled ahead of a pack of elite African runners a little more than halfway into the race and held off a late challenge by Kenya’s Wilson Chebet as the Boston crowd chanted “USA! USA!” His official time: two hours, eight minutes and 37 seconds.
Among the women, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo notched her second consecutive win of the race, smashing a 12-year course record with a blistering official time of two hours, 18 minutes and 57 seconds, reeling in American Shalane Flanagan, who had led the women for the first 20 miles of the 26.2-mile race, setting a punishing pace.
Flanagan, who finished seventh, gave a tearful television interview after the race.
PHOTOS: Boston Marathon
“I love Boston so much and I really wanted to do it for this city,” said Flanagan, who was raised in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “I’m so sad I couldn’t do it for Boston.”
Three people, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed and 264 were hurt when, prosecutors say, a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers left homemade bombs at the crowded finish line, tearing through the crowd.
Some 35,755 runners from 96 countries competed in the second-largest field in history for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.
Among the women runners, Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia was second and compatriot Mare Dibaba third. They too turned in faster performances than the previous course record of 2:20:43 set in 2002 by Margaret Okayno of Kenya.
Among the male runners, Wilson Chebet of Kenya finished second and Frankline Chepkwony, also of Kenya, was third.
No American athlete has stood atop the podium on Boston’s Boylston Street, not far from the site of last year’s bombing, since 1985 when Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach of Michigan won the women’s race. The drought has been longer for U.S. men: Greg Meyer of Massachusetts won in 1983.
Race organizers expanded the field by some 9,000 runners this year, to allow the roughly 5,000 athletes who had been left on the course last year when the twin pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finish line another chance to compete.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernard Orr, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Jonathan Oatis)