Light of a New Day
by Bob Fitzgerald
On a day when cheering
crescendos constantly accompanied the flow of runners down Boylston Street, the
improbable but momentous Boston Marathon victory by America’s Meb Keflezighi
scored highest on the Richter Scale. In a city and a marathon looking to turn
the page, an American victory for the first time in over three decades was
salve indeed. Born in war torn Eritrea, Meb knew senseless tragedy firsthand.
He arrived here as a child. When he won Olympic silver at Athens in 2004, it
was the first US medal since Frank Shorter won silver in Montreal in 1976. When
he won New York in 2009, it was the first US victory since Alberto Salazar in
1982. He was 4th in the London Olympic Marathon in 2012.
Boston is not a time trial
course. On a championship course, ala New York, ala the Olympics, and most
certainly ala Boston a year after the bombings, how could you cede Meb a decent
lead? There is a great picture on pg. 50 that shows the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked
marathoners in the world eying each other. No one seems concerned about the guy
in the red, white and blue Skechers on the wrong side of 38 up the road.
Afterward, Meb would say, “I
knew it was a loaded field. I didn’t have a 2:04, 2:05 PR, but guess what? I
have the Boston Marathon title.”
Shalane. Heart of a
champion. Wanted this so badly. She placed 4th a year ago in a slowish affair
won by Jeptoo. This year she and her coach figured a 2:22 would do it. Flanagan
ran her race, made the race, but Jeptoo is otherwordly. Shalane ran 5-minutes
faster than in 2013, Jeptoo 7+. Flanagan’s valiant effort netted her the top US
time on the course, bettering the 2:22:43 run by another New EnglanderÛÓMaine’s
Joan SamuelsonÛÓfor a world record in 1983. “Joanie” ran within 30 minutes of
her world best 30 years later at Boston 117. She did the same this year at the
age of 56, preceded by son Anders in 2:50:01 and followed by daughter Abby in
filled this year’s starting field of 32,408 and 90% would finish. Of the 5,633
turned back in the wake of last year’s bombings, 80% took up the B.A.A.’s offer
to return and finish the race.
At 2:49 pm, the time the
first bomb went off last year, a huge roar erupted from the bleachers lining
Boylston Street that was answered by the thousands lining the opposite side of
Shane O’Hara, the manager of
the Boylston St. Marathon Sports for the past 14 years, crossed the finish line
with a grimace that soon evaporated into a wide smile as he recognized the
chants of “Shane-O!” from the multitude of Marathon Sports staffers waiting on
his arrival. The day before he had shaken hands with a block long crowd that
entered his store single file for hours on end. Many bought nothing. Entered
just to stand on hallowed ground. “Have you sold any shoes?” he was asked,
eliciting a laugh. “Not many,” said O’Hara. “Mostly apparel. Anything that says
Û¢Boston’ we can’t keep in stock.”
Later in the day, a few
survivors would navigate the end of Boylston, eliciting huge cheers and tears
of joy. The Hoyts, Dick and Rick, would complete their last Boston together.
Dick is 73. Was to sign off last year. Couldn’t. The emergency nurses on the
ICU unit at Mass General banded together and ran this year. Only one had
previously been a runner but they got the job done.
New Jersey’s Ben Beach would
run his 47th straight Boston. In the evening, Race Director Dave McGillivray
would run his 42nd straight Hopkinton to Boston jaunt. B.A.A. Executive
Director Tom Grilk would announce at the finish line as he always does. In a
Today Show interview, Matt Lauer surmised that this year wasn’t about the race,
wasn’t about fast timesÛ¢to which Grilk very diplomatically answered that there
would be tributes and the victims would be honored, and then the B.A.A. would
attend to the matter of putting on a world-class athletic event. Bravo.
None of the marathon’s most
obvious caretakers down to the day-of volunteers had ever been handed a memo
reading, “by the way, at some point you will be tasked with helping a city to
heal.” That it happened flawlessly is amazing. The One Fund was up to $75
million before Boston; 29-year marathon title sponsor John Hancock jumping in
with the first million. Hancock’s Mary Kate Shea, who put together this year’s
prodigious fields, worked the start in Hopkinton, then ran the marathon, then
worked the finish in her usual race day routine.
experience another Boston Marathon like we did this past Patriots’ Day.
reading the history of our proud city and its iconic sporting treasure will
notice two benchmarked years, back to back, one tragic and one inspiring. We
will all be long forgotten by then, vanished in the notation, having witnessed
firsthand the closing of one dark chapter as another opened to the light of a