Home News Starting With No. 1,...

Starting With No. 1, Marathon Meb Aims To Defend Boston Title

By Justin A. Rice | April 17, 2015, 5:51 p.m. (ET)

Meb Keflezighi crosses the finish line to win the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston.

Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years last April, and he did it a year after the bombing of the world’s oldest annual marathon.

Meanwhile, Tatyana McFadden defended her women’s wheelchair title and began a second consecutive streak of winning the marathon grand slam: Boston, Chicago, London and New York. She’s the only athlete to win all four marathons in one year.

So how could Uncle Sam’s contingent running Monday’s 119th annual Patriots Day celebration possibly top that performance?

Well a win by Boston’s hometown girl, Shalane Flanagan, would be a nice encore. The Marblehead, Massachusetts, native would be the first American female to win the race since Lisa Rainsberger did so 30 years ago.

Tatyana McFadden celebrates as she wins the women's wheelchair division of the 2014 B.A.A. Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston.

Flanagan, Keflezighi and McFadden highlight the U.S. elite contingent for Monday’s race.

In past years, Flanagan — who ran the fastest time ever (2:22:02) by an American woman in Boston last year — has not been shy about telling the media she dreams about crossing the finish line on Boylston Street first. Flanagan also recorded her PR (2:21:14) in Berlin last year.

But this year she has tempered her expectations by saying she simply hopes to land on the Patriots Day podium in her final marathon before the next February’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Los Angeles.

“My primary goal is to make it onto the podium, because I’ve never done that before,” Flanagan, who finished seventh last year and fourth in 2013, told Runner’s World recently. “If I know I’m in the top three, then I’ll get greedier from there. I want to secure the mentality of aiming for the top three, because that’s important in the next year — it’s important to make the Olympic team and at the Olympics, too.”

In her 2013 debut in the race she grew up watching, Flanagan finished fourth with a time 2:27.08 after leading for most of the race. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won in 2:26:25. In January, Jeptoo, who has won Boston three times and Chicago twice, was banned from the sport for two years for doping.

Nevertheless, Flanagan will be up against stiff competition. The four fastest women in the field will be from Ethiopia, including two with sub-2:20 marathons. Mare Dibaba finished third last year behind her teammate Buzunesh Deba. Two former Boston champions from Kenya will also be in the field: Sharon Cherop won in 2012 and was eighth last year, while Caroline Kilel won in 2011 and was 17th last year. 

Flanagan, a bronze medalist in the 10,000-meter at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games who finished 10th in the marathon at the London Games in 2012, is not the only U.S. Olympian in Monday’s women’s field. Desiree (Davila) Linden and Amy (Hastings) Cragg join her. Linden placed second in Boston in 2011 and Cragg finished fifth in Chicago last year.

Rounding out the women’s elite field is Romanian-born Adriana Nelson, who was the first American finisher at the 2013 New York City marathon.

On the men’s side, top Americans include Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Matt Tegenkamp. Nicholas Arciniaga, Jeffrey Eggleston and Fernando Cabada will also round out the U.S. contingent. 

First-time Boston Marathoner Ritzenhein is a three-time Olympian who recorded his PR (2:07:47) in Chicago two years ago, the same race in which two-time Olympian Tegenkamp finished 10th in his marathon debut. Boston will be his second marathon.

But all eyes will be on Marathon Meb, who wore bib No. 19 while shocking the world last year. This year he will have the honor of sporting bib No. 1, which is reserved for the defending champion. Before Meb, the last American men’s champion in Boston, Greg Meyer, didn’t return to run in 1984 because he sat out to focus on the Olympic Trials.

Therefore, Bill Rodgers was the last American male to rock the No. 1 bib in 1981, a year after winning his fourth Boston Marathon.

“A lot of people talk about what bib number you get to wear at Boston,” Keflezighi told Runner’s World. “Last year I had less than a one-percent chance of winning, and this year I’m wearing bib No. 1. I earned bib No. 1, so I’m excited about that.”

To defend his title, Keflezighi will have to overcome a strong field that includes five sub-2:05 marathoners and ten sub-2:07 runners, including 2013 Boston champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia. The 2012 Boston winner, Wesley Korir of Kenya, will also be in Monday’s field.

Monday’s Boston Marathon will also mark the first time that the Abbott World Marathon Majors will include elite wheelchair athletes. Boston was also the first major U.S. road race to recognize wheelchair participation in 1975. One man and one woman will be awarded $50,000 after all races in the series are completed, including the Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons.

Paralympic Games and IPC Athletics World Championships races will also be included in the series when they are on the calendar.

“This is a key milestone for all athletes and for the global sport,” McFadden said in a statement. “It's thrilling to be able to race on the best courses across the world, and a formalized AWMM series adds more honor and weight to any finish.”

Justin A. Rice is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers sports and local news. He has been a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org since 2010 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

head shot

Shalane Flanagan

head shot

Tatyana McFadden

Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics
head shot

Dathan Ritzenhein

head shot

Matthew Tegenkamp

head shot

Mebrahtom Keflezighi