BOSTON - "The Star-Spangled Banner" played over Boylston Street in honor of an American winner of the 118th Boston Marathon.
One year after a bombing there killed three people and left more than 260 injured, Meb Keflezighi added Boston to a résumé that includes the New York City Marathon title in 2009 and a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics.
"At the end, I just kept thinking, 'Boston Strong. Boston Strong,' " said Keflezighi, who will turn 39 in 2 weeks. "I was thinking 'Give everything you have. If you get beat, that's it.' "
Keflezighi, of San Diego, completed the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the finish on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay yesterday in a personal-best 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds. He held off Kenya's Wilson Chebet, who finished 11 seconds behind.
Keflezighi went out early and built a big lead. But he was looking over his shoulder several times as Chebet closed the gap over the final 2 miles. After realizing he wouldn't be caught, Keflezighi raised his sunglasses, began pumping his right fist and made the sign of the cross. He broke into tears after crossing the finish line, then draped himself in the American flag.
No U.S. runner had won the race since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach took the women's title in 1985. The last American man to win was Greg Meyer in 1983. Meyer and Keflezighi embraced after the race.
"I'm blessed to be an American and God bless America and God bless Boston for this special day," Keflezighi said.
After breaking a 27-year American drought at the New York marathon in 2009, Keflezighi contemplated retiring after the 2012 NYC Marathon. But that race was canceled because of Superstorm Sandy, and he pulled out of the Boston Marathon last April because of injury. He watched the race from the stands at the finish line, but said he left about 5 minutes before the bombs went off.
He was the first American to medal in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter won gold in 1972 and silver in 1976.
A 38-year-old U.S. citizen who emigrated from Eritrea as a boy, Keflezighi wrote the names of the three dead on his bib along with that of the MIT police officer killed during the manhunt.
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya successfully defended the women's title she said she could not enjoy a year ago. Jeptoo finished in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds. She is a three-time Boston Marathon champion, having also won in 2006.
"I came here to support the people in Boston and show them that we are here together," she said. "I decided to support them and show them we are here together."
American Shalane Flanagan, who went to high school in nearby Marblehead, finished seventh after leading for more than half the race. She gambled by setting the early pace, but fell back on the Newton Hills about 21 miles into the race.
Another American, Tatyana McFadden, celebrated her 25th birthday yesterday by winning the women's wheelchair race for the second straight year. She was timed in in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 6 seconds.
Ernst van Dyk of South Africa won the men's wheelchair division for a record 10th time. The 41-year-old crossed in 1 hour, 20 minutes, 36 seconds.
Marathon officials said 35,755 runners registered for the race, with 32,408 unofficial starters.