BOSTON - Bob Larsen has been Mebrahtom ‘Meb’ Keflezighi’s coach since Meb’s Hall of Fame running career at UCLA from 1994-98. Larsen has witnessed all of Keflezighi’s elite distance accomplishments.
Monday at the Boston Marathon, when Meb became the first American to win the men’s race since 1983, Larsen was among the first to greet Keflezighi at the finish line. Also at the finish line were Meb’s brother, Merhawi and his wife, Yordanos
“Who won the race?” Larsen joked with Meb, then they hugged, cried, hugged and cried some more. With a million in attendance, those at the finish line were waving and chanting ‘USA, USA, USA!’
“It was very emotional,” Larsen said. “We hugged, you don’t have to say anything in that type of a situation.”
Keflezighi’s winning time of 2:08.37 over the 26.2 mile course was a personal-best, ahead of second-place finisher, Kenya’s Wilson Chebet (2:08.48). Since 1991, a Kenya runner had won the Boston Marathon on 19 occasions.
“This is a great boost for American distance running in the future,” Larsen said. “Meb triumphed in the greatest Boston field ever, by far.”
Larsen and Meb had plotted a strategy for Keflezighi to run an even race, and for Meb to have the lead at the 21 mile mark (Heartbreak Hill), which is then mostly downhill to the finish line.
“I thought last night Meb was going to run a really good race and he delivered,” Larsen said. “Give Meb the credit, he makes more and more of these decisions. We’ve been doing this for so long, we think alike. It was key for him to keep the pace even, if he tried to surge with the top runners, that would be tough on him.
“Meb’s first half and second half of the race varied by only about seven seconds. He was not an easy target to run down. When the other runners took off after him, Meb was too far ahead and they couldn’t catch him. Meb kept executing his mechanics and that was the difference.”
Keflezighi’s victory was on the anniversary of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and left more than 260 injured. Many of those injured competed in Monday’s race. Keflezighi did not run in last year’s Boston race. He was at the event but left the race site about five minutes before the bombings occurred.
“Last night, Meb took his running bib and wrote on it the names of the victims from last year’s tragedy,” Larsen said. “That was his inspiration during the race. When it got tough, he was thinking about them. He was a man with a mission, he ran with a purpose.”
Keflezighi, who turns 39 on May 5, becomes the only men’s distance runner in U. S. history to win the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon (2009) and earn a marathon medal in the Olympics (Silver Medal/2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece).
Larsen, who last year was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, said “All Meb’s work, all his dedication, paid off again in something very, very special.”
Mebrahtom Keflezighi (Ma-brah-tom Ka-flez-ghee) Biography
‘Family’ has always been an important element in the life of Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi. As a child growing up in Asmara, Eritrea, his parents, Russom and Awetash, protected their six children as their native country was embroiled in a war of independence against Ethiopia.
Escaping the conflict, the family lived in Italy for a time and in 1987, when Meb was 12, the Keflezighi’s moved to San Diego, CA in search of better educational opportunities for their children (the family eventually grew to 11 children).
At San Diego HS, Meb began making a name for himself as a prep distance runner. As a senior in 1994, he led the nation’s high school ranks in the 1600m (4:06.15) and 3200m (8:51.8), earning prep All-America honors from Track & Field News. At the National Scholastic Meet, he won both the mile (4:05.58, fastest prep mile since 1987) and 3000m (8:25.07). At the CA State Meet, he became only the third athlete in state history to win both the 1600m (4:07.67) and 3200m (8:58.11). In cross country, he won the CA Div. I title and placed second at the Foot Locker national championships.
Bob Larsen, at the time UCLA’s men’s track & field and cross country head coach, recruited Meb to Westwood and has been his coach throughout his collegiate (1994-98) and professional career. As a Bruin, Meb became the greatest distance runner in school history. In 1997, he won four NCAA distance titles. At the winter NCAA Indoor, he won the 5,000m (13:52.72), at the summer NCAA Outdoor he placed first in the 5,000m (13:44.17) and 10,000m (28:51.18) and at the fall NCAA Cross Country championships, Meb triumphed over the 10,000m course in a record time of 28.54 to become the first Bruin to ever win the title. He’s only the third athlete in NCAA history to win the NCAA cross country and outdoor 5000m and 10,000m in the same season.
During his four year Bruin distance running career, Meb was four-time All-American in cross country, a five-time All-American at the NCAA Outdoor and a three-time All-American at the NCAA Indoor. He was a two-time (1996-97) Pac-10 champion in the 5000m , the 1996 Pac-10 cross country winner and the sport’s conference Male Athlete of the Year and in 1997 Meb was the Pac-10 Male Athlete of the Year in both track & field and cross country. He holds the outdoor school records in both the 5000m (13:26.85, 1998) and 10,000m (28:16.79, 1998) and the indoor school record in the 5000m (13:52.72).
Following his senior season at UCLA, Meb returned to his hometown of San Diego to take the U. S. oath and become an American citizen.
Training under Coach Larsen at the high-level altitude site of Mammoth Lakes, CA, Meb has become one of the top distance runners in U. S. history. The 2012 London Olympics was his third representing the U. S. The two-time (2000/2004) U. S. Trials 10,000m champion, at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Meb came down with the flu but still managed to place 12th in the 10,000m.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Meb ran to one of his career highlights, placing second and winning the silver medal in the marathon with a then personal-best time of 2:11.29. It was the first medal won by a U. S. men’s runner in the marathon since Frank Shorter won the gold in 1972 and silver in 1976.
On Jan. 14, Meb won the 2012 U. S. Marathon trials in Houston, TX, in a new personal-best mark of 2:09.08, finishing ahead of second-place Ryan Hall and third-place Abdi Abdirahman. He became the oldest winner of the U. S. Olympic Trials marathon at the age of 36.
On Aug. 12, the last day of the 2012 London Olympics, Meb placed fourth in the marathon, in a time of 2:11.06. Twenty-four Keflezighi family members made the trip to London to support Meb.
Meb’s other U. S. distance highlights include – winning the 2009 New York City Marathon in a then-personal-best time of 2:09.15 to become the first American to win the event since 1982; three-time U.S. 10,000m (2000, ’02, ’04) and 12km cross country (’01, ’02, ’09 ) champion and a six-time champion in the U. S. 15km (’01, ’02, ’03,’04, ’06, ’07). In 2001 he set the American record in the 10,000m (27:13.98, broken in 2010).
Meb was scheduled to run the Nov. 4 2012 New York City Marathon, but it was cancelled because of super storm Sandy.
In 2010, Meb was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame and that same year he released his autobiography, ‘Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream,’ co-authored with Dick Patrick. He is the founder of the MEB (Maintaining Excellent Balance) Foundation, promoting health, education and fitness for school-age youth.
His professional agent and personal assistant is his brother Merhawi, who as a UCLA undergraduate was a student manager for the Bruin men’s basketball team (head student manager in 2001-02) and is a 2006 graduate of the UCLA School of Law.
Meb and his wife, Yordanos, are the proud parents of three daughters – Sara (seven-years-old), Fiyori (five-years-old) and Yohana (three-years-old).