Photos by Chris Stone
Meb Keflezighi returned to his alma mater of San Diego High School on Saturday to bask in the cheers of several hundred fans and old friends, where Mayor Kevin Faulconer declared the recent Boston Marathon winner “America’s Finest Runner.”
Faulconer, among the few in the crowd of 250 wearing a suit on a sunny day in the high 60s, presented Keflezighi a framed key to the city.
Former classmate David Alvarez — the councilman and also-ran in the mayor’s race — declared the month of May in the runner’s honor, saying he hopes 2016 would be “Meb Year” in San Diego should he qualify for and do well in the Rio Olympics.
“Not only is he committed to running, he is committed to living a positive life,” Alvarez said.
Faulconer called Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi a “true American hero.”
“There are so many great ways to describe Meb. He’s a great athlete, a great father, an Olympian and a San Diegan,” Faulconer said. “And today, I believe we are creating another great way to honor Meb — America’s finest runner.”
The Eritrean-born runner, who turned 39 on May 5, won the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21 with an official time of 2:08:37. As he approached the finish line roughly 10 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Wilson Chebet of Kenya, he pumped his fist as the crown cheered him on.
Keflezighi and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees from Eritrea in 1987, when he was 12. He won both the 1,600-meter and the 3,200-meter races at the CIF California State Championship while at San Diego High School, where he graduated in 1994.
Keflezighi, in his own remarks to the crowd, stressed his school preparation, recalling how at UCLA “my teammates always looked at the study lounge before they went to my room, because that’s how much academics meant to me.”
The 1999 UCLA graduate gave a timeline of his professional running career — including his Olympic appearances in 2000, 2004 and 2012. He said he considered retiring after not qualifying for the Games in 2008.
Humble but beaming, the San Diegan arrived to cheers at 10:15 a.m., making his way down the stadium stairs. After signing autographs, slapping hands and posing for selfies, Keflezighi walked two laps of the Balboa Stadium track with his parents, siblings, wife and children and other relatives — trailed by dozens of others.
He conducted TV interviews during and after the stroll but saved the most time for his fans — swarming him on the 40-yard line of the football field at Balboa Stadium.
Watching with pride were his high school and college coaches, Ed Ramos and Bob Larsen.
Wearing his Boston medal, he signed everything thrust his way and made time for pictures with the San Diego Track Club and even members of the media.
Cheers of “U-S-A, U-S-A” punctuated late-morning ceremonies emceed by Mike McDowell, newly named president of the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park, where the event was originally scheduled.
It was moved to San Diego High School’s stadium because another large event was planned at the park.
“Today on Meb Day, we will not only honor a great athletic achievement by an esteemed champion in his sport, we will also honor Meb as a true national treasure — the pride of San Diego,” McDowell said.
Steve Brand of the Hall of Champions, the former Union-Tribune prep writer who’s covered Meb since his sophomore year, invited fans in the concrete stands to quiz Keflezighi while waiting for the mayor’s arrival.
“Winning is not about getting first place or getting a medal — it’s getting the best out of yourself each and every time,” Keflezighi would say later. “I hope I’ve done that.”
A San Diego Track Club contingent gave their own answer after posing with him.
Amid hugs, they said: “We love you, Meb!”
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