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Meb Keflezighi: From a Refugee to an American Marathon Champion


In 2014, Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. He added that to his victory at the 2009 New York Marathon and an Olympic silver medal at the 2004 Greek Olympics. At the time, Meb was the only runner to have won these three races. He was a record holder in the 10,000 meters. 

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From a refugee to an elite runner, this article traces Meb’s journey into the world of athletics

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Meb Keflezighi’s Early Life

Born Mebrahton “Meb” Keflezighi, the runner grew up as a refugee in Eritrea. He’s one of 10 children who’d eventually move over to the United States for a better life. 

Meb’s father escaped Eritrea during its fight for independence from Ethiopia and headed to Italy. From there, he found his way to the U.S, and the rest joined him afterward.

At the time, Meb was 12 years old and wasn’t fluent in English. Once he began school, he started running during the Physical Education (PE) and his coaches noticed his speed. 

He dominated school races, winning the 1600 meters and the 3200 meters at the CIF California State Championships.

The Eritrean-American furthered his education at the University of California and Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he won multiple races in the 5K and the 10K.

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Meb Keflezighi’s Career

During his professional career, Meb hit highs that other Americans haven’t. By the time he graduated, he had become a naturalized American citizen and represented the country. In 2001, Meb won the USA Cross Country Championships. He went on and won this two more times: in 2002 and 2009. 

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Additionally, Meb competed in track & field in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m. He ran 3:42.29, 13:11.77 and 27:13.98 respectively. Meb Keflezighi set an American record in the 10,000m and lasted until 2010 when Chris Solinksy broke it when he ran 26:59:60. 

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Meb Keflezighi: From a Refugee to an American Marathon Champion
Meb Keflezighi on the right competing at the 2009 London Marathon. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Meb Keflezighi’s record was good enough to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. In the 2004 Summer Olympics, he won the silver medal in the marathon with a time of 2:11:29. He missed out on the 2008 Olympics after injuring his left hip. 

Unfortunately, Meb never competed in another Olympic competition afterwards, so the silver medal in 2004 was his only Olympic medal. 

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This is where Meb Keflezighi made a name for himself. Before his historic victory at the Boston Marathon in 2014, the Eritrean-American won silver and bronze medals in 2004 & 2005. He also won a bronze medal at the 2006 Boston Marathon. 

Meb’s first gold medal came at the New York City marathon in 2009. The last American to win this event was Alberto Salazaar in 1982. 

In 2014, he wrote another record when he became the first American since Lisa Rainsberger in 1985 to win the Boston Marathon and the first man since Greg Meyer in 1983. He finished the race at a time of 2:08:37.

Due to his accomplishments, Meb was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.

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