Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2004

Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2004

As the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon will mark Meb Keflezighi's 26th and final competitive marathon—his 11th in New York City—The Run On looks back at his previous runs through the five boroughs. This week, we're recapping his 2004 race, and his second round with the Big Apple.

After his first encounter with "the wall" in his debut at the 2002 New York City Marathon, Keflezighi returned to New York two years later as a more experienced—and decorated—marathon runner.

In the Interim

After his 2002 marathon debut in New York City, he competed in the 2003 Chicago Marathon, recording a seventh-place 2:10:03. He then made his second Olympic team with a 2:11:47 runner-up finish at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Birmingham, AL. In Athens, Meb would make history with his silver-medal performance, becoming the first American man to reach the podium in the Olympic Marathon since Frank Shorter's silver at the Montreal 1976 Games.

Coincidentally, Shorter ran the New York City Marathon later that year, finishing second in the first-ever race on the five-borough course. But with the Athens Olympic Marathon taking place on August 29, Keflezighi had just 70 days to prepare for New York. (For comparison, Shorter had 85 days between his races).

His Competitors

On November 6, he would face the likes of two-time New York City Marathon champion John Kagwe of Kenya, Kagwe's compatriot Timothy Cherigat, the 2004 Boston Marathon winner, and Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, a two-time IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships silver medalist.

Keflezighi's domestic rivals included Abdi Abdirahman, who placed second behind him at U.S. Olympic Trials 10,000 meters that summer, and Bob Kennedy, the first American to break 13 minutes for 5000 meters.

The Race

On race day, Keflezighi kept himself situated in a large lead pack, crossing the Pulaski Bridge in 1:04:15 as no man made any significant move in the first half of the race. As the race turned off the Queensboro Bridge and onto First Avenue, however, a breakaway of three men formed, including Ramaala and Cherigat. Keflezighi remained at the front of the chase pack, keeping the three in sight while working to close the gap through the Bronx and down Fifth Avenue.

Keflezighi passed the third man in the breakaway—Christopher Cheboiboch of Kenya—nearing the 1:40 mark of the race, and shifted his focus on the remaining two.

Keflezighi (bib #2) in between Cherigat (8) and Ramaala (17) on Fifth Avenue.

Catching the co-leaders on Fifth Avenue, the three entered Central Park as a pack. With three miles to go, Keflezighi had one advantage over his competitors: knowledge of the course. The USA 8K Championships had been held in Central Park each of the previous two years, and Keflezighi had won both.

Breaking the tape at the 2004 USA Men's 8K Championships, held in Central Park that March.

For several minutes, the three traded leads down East Drive before Ramaala made his move.

On mile 24, as Keflezighi moved to the side of the road to take a drink from an aid station, Ramaala surged ahead. In his book, Run to Overcome, Keflezighi recounts the sequence of events:

While Cherigat and I were drinking, Ramaala bolted ahead, putting maybe 40 meters on us. I wasn't too concerned; I still thought Cherigat was the bigger threat. Once he began falling back, I took off after Ramaala but could not eat into his lead.

Ramaala broke the tape in 2:09:24, becoming South Africa's first champion since 1992. Keflezighi followed in 2:09:52. 

Still, Keflezighi had made another significant contribution to the rebirth of American distance running. In placing second, he recorded the first New York City Marathon podium finish by an American man since Arturo Barrios took third in 1994.

Check back next week as we recap Meb's run at the 2005 New York City Marathon, a race that featured the closest 1-2 finish in event history.

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