Meb Keflezighi

AP

In Meb Keflezighi’s final marathon, he shares in the joy

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NEW YORK — There was a moment, about halfway through, when 42-year-old Meb Keflezighi thought he could win the final marathon of his career.

“I knew there was going to be a big deciding factor at one point,” Keflezighi said afterward, referencing his time in a leading group of about 12 men as the 26.2-mile race snaked from Queens into Manhattan.

Keflezighi, the only person to win an Olympic medal and the New York City and Boston Marathons (in 2009 and 2014, respectively), then began to feel his age.

He faded about 15 seconds behind the pack in the 20th mile entering the Bronx and another minute and a half in the 23rd as Central Park came into view.

“When the turnover is fast, I just can’t do it,” he said. “There’s no way. … I stopped four times probably, four or five times, same old usual thing. When you are 42 years old and competing against the best of the best in the world, your body is not right.”

Keflezighi was 11th in 2:15:29, 4:35 behind Kenyan winner Geoffrey Kamworor, ending an incredible career that included four Olympics. Kamworor was born in 1992, when Keflezighi was a California high school junior.

Watch Keflezighi’s finish here.

NYC MARATHON: Full results | Flanagan ends U.S. drought, may retire

A small percentage — if that — of knowledgable track fans would have predicted that Keflezighi would win Sunday. Eleventh place in his 11th New York City Marathon, he’ll take it.

In typical fashion, Keflezighi spent the last uphill half-mile in Central Park fighting the grimace and acknowledging cheering fans. Waves. Thumbs-up. Blown kisses. Fist pumps.

He collapsed in exhaustion at the finish line, sprawled out on the pavement where he made his marathon debut 15 years ago and swore he’d never run 26.2 miles again.

Keflezighi lay there for five seconds. A man dressed as a race official and his wife and daughters came over to drag him up.

“Today was a struggle, but to get to that finish line was a magical moment,” said Keflezighi, joined by dozens of family members in Manhattan this week. “It was a beautiful victory lap, you could say.”

Keflezighi knew that he would race Sunday with the support of thousands of fans along the route.

What he didn’t know was that perhaps his biggest source of inspiration would be Shalane Flanagan. Also a four-time Olympian, she became the first U.S. female runner to win New York since Keflezighi was a 2-year-old in Eritrea.

“I heard that she won at [mile] 24, and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air,” Keflezighi said.

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Shalane Flanagan is first U.S. woman to win NYC Marathon in 40 years

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NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon since 1977. It might have been the final marathon of her decorated career.

The 36-year-old clocked 2:26:53, shockingly beating three-time defending champion and world-record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya by 61 seconds on Sunday (finish video here).

“This is the moment that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl,” Flanagan said on ESPN2. “It’s a moment, though, that I’m just trying to soak up and savor right now because I feel like this is the kind of moment that we dream of to find out our potential and realize how incredible we can be.”

Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor won the men’s race in 2:10:53, holding off surging countryman Wilson Kipsang by three seconds.

Meb Keflezighi, racing his 26th and final marathon at age 42, was 11th in 2:15:29. He collapsed in exhaustion at the finish line and was helped up by family members.

“A sense of relief,” Keflezighi, the only person to win an Olympic medal and the Boston and New York City Marathons, said on ESPN2. “Today was a struggle, but to get to that finish line was a magical moment.”

NYC MARATHON: Full results | Meb’s emotional final marathon

Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the five-borough race since Miki Gorman in 1977, doing so after one of the most difficult years of her 15-year elite career.

The four-time Olympian Flanagan put a gap between Keitany and third-place Ethiopian Mamitu Daska in the 24th mile. She extended it in Central Park. She tearfully crossed the finish after appearing to exclaim profanely and blowing a kiss.

Flanagan then turned to her left and took about a dozen steps. She found Keflezighi’s cheering section and was engulfed in a hug.

“That was for Meb,” she told race director Peter Ciaccia seconds later. (Keflezighi later said that he heard Flanagan won on his 24th and mile, “and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air.”)

Flanagan teased possible retirement before this race, in the unlikely event that she won. She plans to discuss her future with coaches Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert on Sunday night.

“We’ll have some decisions to make,” she said.

“If she wants to continue, I think we’ll get the best version we’ve seen of Shalane,” Schumacher said. “This can continue for a while, but if she doesn’t, then what a great way to finish.”

Flanagan has been the leading woman in U.S. distance running for about the last decade. She won an Olympic 10,000m silver medal in 2008 and made her marathon debut in New York City in 2010, finishing second.

She had not raced New York since but was strong in the years between — making two more Olympic teams, including winning the 2012 Olympic Trials and placing third in the 2014 Berlin Marathon. She was the top American in the Rio Olympic marathon in sixth.

But this year, she withdrew ahead of April’s Boston Marathon with a back fracture that kept her from running for 10 weeks. She then missed the outdoor world championships team in the 10,000m by placing fourth at nationals in June. She had made every Olympic and world outdoor championships team from 2004 through 2016.

“Sometimes we don’t realize in the moment when we feel like dreams are taken away, that actually there is some delayed gratification down the road,” Flanagan said Sunday before she broke down in tears answering the first question of a press conference. “I think it was a blessing that I got injured last winter.”

Keitany, a 35-year-old mother of two, was an overwhelming pre-race favorite. Not only had she won New York the last three years, but the Kenyan also broke Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record in winning her third London Marathon crown in 2:17:01 on April 23.

But Keitany revealed after running 2:27:54 (nearly three minutes slower than her worst time in her last four NYC starts) that she incurred “a problem with my home” on Saturday at about 3 p.m. Keitany was asked to specify but declined, saying only that it was not an injury.

Flanagan’s upset capped an incredible year for U.S. women in the marathon.

Jordan Hasay, 26, made her marathon debut, finishing third in both Boston in April and Chicago in October.

Hasay had the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman in Boston. Then, in Chicago, she moved to No. 2 on the U.S. all-time list behind Deena Kastor.

Amy Cragg took bronze at the world championships in August, becoming the first U.S. man or woman to make a world championships marathon podium since 1993.

Also Sunday, Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, saw her streak of four straight New York wheelchair titles end.

Swiss Manuela Schar distanced McFadden by 2:52. A month earlier, McFadden won the Chicago Marathon with Schar in third place, two seconds behind.

McFadden closed out a difficult 2017. She was diagnosed with blood clots in her legs in February, requiring an operation. She was hospitalized again in early spring and then finished fourth in the Boston Marathon on April 17.

Swiss Marcel Hug repeated as men’s wheelchair race winner on Sunday in 1:37:21.

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Meb Keflezighi set for final marathon where it all began

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NEW YORK (AP) — He’ll wear the familiar “MEB” bib one final time at the New York City Marathon.

Meb Keflezighi, the face of American long-distance running, wraps up his marathon career where it began in 2002 on the multicultural streets of New York. An immigrant of war-torn Eritrea who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, he’ll be cheered by thousands of spectators and some 70 relatives and friends.

He vowed to never run the grueling 26.2 miles again after going out fast and hitting the wall at mile 21 in his first NYC Marathon. But 26 marathons later, he’s retiring at age 42 after Sunday’s race, capping a career as the only person to win an Olympic medal and New York and Boston titles.

“It’s very emotional coming back,” Keflezighi said. “I’m excited, but at the same time it’s bittersweet. It will be a sigh of relief when I get to the finish line.”

In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American male runner since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to win the NYC marathon.

His most dramatic win came at the 2014 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line with fists pumps and the names of three victims of the bombings and a slain police officer written on his bib.

As a spectator in 2013, he stood in Copley Plaza to greet finishers and left only a short time before the bomb attack injured hundreds.

He kissed the pavement after a Boston Strong and personal-best time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.

Keflezighi also won silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first U.S. man since Frank Shorter in 1976 to win a marathon medal.

“Meb is the premier American distance runner of this generation,” said George Hirsch, who with Fred Lebow started the NYC Marathon in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial. “We have to really go back a long way to Frank and Bill [Rodgers] and Joanie [Benoit Samuelson] and Alberto.

“That was a golden age of American distance running when we literally had Olympic champions in the marathon and runners ranked No. 1 in the world.”

Keflezighi says his parents and siblings could have stayed in Italy after escaping East Africa. But they traveled to the United States, settling in San Diego.

Keflezighi arrived at 12 in 1987, trading a likely future as a child soldier in his native country for good grades, a track scholarship at UCLA and transformation from miler to Olympic marathoner.

His athletic journey began when junior high school gym teacher Dick Lord suggested students run a mile around the playground, and young Meb gave an eye-opening performance.

“People give you confidence,” he said, mentioning college coach Don Larsen. “They kind of see something that you didn’t see. At end of the day, I squeezed everything there is to squeeze out of it.”

In his NYC Marathon debut 15 years ago, Keflezighi thought he could win and made a move on First Avenue in 39-degree weather.

“I told my coach it’s my first and last marathon,” he said. “I got my Ph.D. that day, what to do and what not to do.”

His parents will be in New York again Sunday. He posted two photos on Twitter, showing his parents and several siblings upon their arrival in the U.S. in 1987 and a more recent photo. The caption reads, “Where did your family immigrate from?”

“This country is built on immigrants, unless you’re Native American,” Keflezighi said. “Whether it was 30 years ago like myself or 50 years ago or 100 years ago or someone who just came here last week.”

His father cleaned floors, drove a taxi and helped them learn English while his mother raised 10 children.

“That’s why my parents got here, by hard work and perseverance. We could have been in Italy forever, it was peace and tranquility,” he said. “But the land of opportunity lies in the United States.

“All my brothers and sisters graduated from medical school, engineering, MBA or law. All those things because the great United States gave us opportunities. I maxed out my potential in terms of running. But all my siblings also reached great things to be a positive contributor to society.”

He says he’ll spend more time with his wife, Yordanos, and three young daughters, run some half-marathons, coach and work with his MEB Foundation. It stands for “Maintaining Excellent Balance” and promotes healthy living and motivation for youth.

NYC Marathon officials say they’ll retire the “MEB” bib, the last time a pro athlete wears a first name. Always an ambassador of the sport, Keflezighi plans to return to the finish line Sunday and greet the last stragglers in the dark at Central Park.

“They’re going to have tears in their eyes when he drops a medal around their necks,” Hirsch said.

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