SAN DIEGO (AP) — It’s great being Meb these days. Crazy, too.
Meb Keflezighi already was a big-time marathoner, with a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and a win in the New York City Marathon in 2009. Then came his inspirational victory in the Boston Marathon a year after the bombings there, and his life went stratospheric.
It’s been a rush of appearances, speaking engagements and other commitments.
The highlight? Being seated at the head table with his wife Yordanos at a White House state dinner in August. Keflezighi said President Barack Obama announced his arrival by saying, “Here comes the fast guy. Do you know how fast this guy is?”
Meb being Meb, though, he’s loving every minute of it, with his easy smile and laugh.
On a typically spectacular early autumn San Diego afternoon, Keflezighi took a short break before heading to Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra for 3 1/2 weeks of altitude training prior to running in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 2.
Sitting on the balcony of his house in the upscale Mission Hills neighborhood, his view stretches from downtown all the way over to Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument, where he took the oath of citizenship on July 2, 1998. It’s a far different scene than the one rife with war and poverty that he left behind in the third world.
There’s an American flag flying from the front of his house. He’s wearing a red, white and blue USA shirt his sponsor, Skechers, made for him.
“The American dream is to be in San Diego,” said Keflezighi. He was born in Eritrea in the Horn of Africa before his father was able to get the family to Italy and then San Diego.
“Unless you count the practice I did today,” said Keflezighi, who had gone on a training run of 26.2 miles. He progressively moved an ice pack from his right ankle to his knee to his thigh as he sat for an interview.
New York will be his first marathon since he became the first American man in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon. Keflezighi said life has been “crazy” since.
“It’s an honor and privilege and it comes with a lot of responsibility,” he said. “Hopefully everybody that interacted with me before I won Boston, feel the same way after Boston. The demand on my time has changed drastically. Boston just went over the top. To be an American to be able to bring the home title back after what happened last year was a pretty amazing experience, and people appreciate it. It’s not even congratulations. It’s more, ‘Thank you.’
“It’s been hectic but in a great way.”
Keflezighi knows some people will expect him to win New York. It won’t be the end of his world if he doesn’t.
He’ll do the proper amount of training, “but at the same time, it’s not like I have to win New York. Not that I don’t want to win New York. At the same time, it’s, ‘been there, done that.’ I’ve just got to go back to the basics and start working forward.”
Keflezighi points to last year’s New York City Marathon, when he was 23rd in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 47 seconds. It was his lowest finish and slowest time for a marathon. His training had been interrupted by injuries, and at one point he slowed to a walk.
While other elite runners might grouse or offer excuses, Keflezighi ended up with a special moment. He and Michael Cassidy of Staten Island, whom he met before the race in the elite runners’ tent, ran the last three miles together. Approaching the finish, they held hands and then raised their arms aloft as they crossed the line.
“I won my age group,” Keflezighi said with a laugh.
Sure enough, the engraved crystal plate for winning the 35-39 age group is on a counter in his kitchen, near a box of Wheaties with his picture on it. It was made for him after he spoke at General Mills’ annual sales conference.
A shot at the 2016 Olympics remains a possibility. The trials will be in Los Angeles.
“Since I know the date, Feb. 13, 2016, I guess I’m gearing for it somehow, some way,” he said.
Keflezighi, 39, remains motivated by how his father, Russom, escaped Eritrea by walking 225 miles to Sudan. Because he had supported Eritrean rebels in their fight against Ethiopian soldiers, Russom Keflezighi felt it was too dangerous to remain. Five years later, he was able to get his family out.
Meb was 12 when the family arrived in San Diego. He and eight of his siblings have received college degrees, while Admekom is attending San Diego State.
“For us it was never, ‘Are we going to go to college?’ It was, ‘When are we going to college?’ or ‘Which college are we going to go to?’ said Keflezighi, who graduated from UCLA.
Their half-sister, Ruth, grew up in Italy and moved to the United States first. “She is the reason we came to San Diego, so she deserves an honorary degree for that,” said Merhawi Keflezighi, who has a law degree from UCLA and is Meb’s agent and business manager.
It’s a good bet Keflezighi’s Boston win will always be his career highlight.
In the corners of his bib, Keflezighi wrote the first names of the four people killed in the bombing and manhunt.
“Not that we wanted 2013 to happen. But my energy was all on that race to be able to say, ‘What can I do positively to change Boylston Street?’ I see the pictures that have been taken there, from the front, from the back, from the side; people are on their feet clapping or chanting U-S-A, U-S-A. It gives me great pride to have done that for the people.”
(BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer)