BOSTON -- An American victory at the Boston Marathon.
Before the sun even rose Monday, that much was assured if, and only if, everyone made it through the day without the slightest hint of what happened last year.
Then, something very memorable happened this year.
An American victory at the Boston Marathon.
Meb Keflezighi put an exclamation point on a day of healing by becoming the first American man since 1983 to win America’s oldest marathon, a result even more stunning given that he’s days from his 39th birthday and was an afterthought in a star-studded field. He finished in 2 hours 8 minutes 37 seconds.
Keflezighi’s joy was tempered by the acknowledgment that the day was much bigger than any man winning this race, a fact he accepted as he pinned on his running bib after writing the names of the four who died as a result of last year’s terrorist attack, when two bombs exploded near the finish line.
“I’m blessed to be an American,” said Keflezighi, who lives in San Diego after emigrating from Eritrea in 1987. “God bless America and God bless Boston. This is a special day.”
Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the women’s race in a course-record 2:18:57, defending the title she won last year but could not celebrate because of the tragedy.
If the terrorists thought they could deter runners, they horribly miscalculated. Monday’s 118th edition of the race drew 35,755 official entries, the second-largest in Boston history, with untold thousands more wishing they too could run.
The race began under a spectacular blue sky in Hopkinton and ended with a raucous, packed crowd on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. Security was tight, but if there was any tension early, it gave way to a feeling of triumph with each set of running shoes traipsing across the finish line.
“This day is about as good as it gets,” said volunteer Kirk Neustrom, of West Des Moines, Iowa, who made it his duty to slap high-fives with every hand he could reach in the finishers’ chute. “It’s been a perfect day. It’s like I always remember Boston being, and I’ve been here 20 years.”
Including last year.
“I was at the bomb site within 60 seconds,” Neustrom said. “I saw some really ugly things.”
“Beautiful things. It’s a good part of healing.”
American Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair race and received the olive wreath traditionally presented to champions — and immediately handed it to Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy-hat-wearing hero photographed rushing to aid victims last year.
“It was amazing, the energy on the course,” said Mitch Guirard, 28, of West Palm Beach. “It meant a lot to everybody, especially people in this city, to come back out. It’s not going to stop people from running.”
Security concerns didn’t deter Joey Phillips, 55, who came from Akron, Ohio, for his 18th Boston Marathon with a running singlet that read “HELL YES WE’RE BACK.”
“The people are just unbelievable,” said Phillips, who was 300 yards beyond the finish line when the first explosion occurred last year. “I can’t even describe it. It’s like you’re Larry Bird coming through, and everybody seems like you’re the first person that they see. And they’ve been there for hours and hours.”
It was a day of contrasts: a moment of silence at the starting line to remember Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lu Lingzi, spectators who died in the explosions, and officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the ensuing manhunt. But at 2:48 p.m., the time of the first explosion in 2013, the public-address announcer implored the crowd to let out a cheer “they’ll hear around the world.”
Fans cheered, all right. They also cheered the National Guardsman in fatigues as he covered those final few steps. Blind runners led by guides. Runners with prosthetic limbs, some a result of the bombing. Runners whose moisture on their faces might have been sweat, might have been a reflection of Patriots’ Day 2013.
Minnesotan Mike Johnson braced himself against the finish line scaffolding as he broke down in tears, having finally finished the Boston Marathon after being stopped a half-mile short when last year’s race was aborted.
“I’m kind of a wuss,” said Johnson, who dedicated each mile to a friend or family member and epitomized the spirit by stopping late in the race to help get a struggling runner back on his way.