- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

FALMOUTH, Mass.

When American distance great Meb Keflezighi reminisces about his glory year, a soft smile comes to his face. It accompanies the memories of 70 days in 2004 when he earned an improbable silver medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens and remarkably recovered a couple of months later for a runner-up finish at the New York City Marathon.

“2004 is hard to top it off, but 2009 is coming close right now,” Keflezighi said.

His stock has not always been this high. Nearly two years ago, he could barely crawl on the floors of his home. He was in so much pain from an injury that arrived at the worst time: a stress fracture in his right hip during the Olympic team marathon trials in New York City’s Central Park in November 2007.

“I could have hung it up then,” he said. “It goes back to the roots of your faith.”

The 34-year-old was born in the embattled east African country of Eritrea into a family of 11 children with no electricity.

“I wanted to be a runner from Day One, from youth,” he said. “Seventh grade, I ran a 5:20 mile, which isn’t so fast. It took hard work, but injuries are a part of the game.”

Illness has interfered with some of Keflezighi’s best opportunities. On the biggest stage of his life at the time, Keflezighi made the 2000 Olympic final in the 10,000 meters despite having the flu; he placed 12th with a personal best 27:53.63. Then there was his awful luck at the 2006 New York City Marathon, where he suffered food poisoning and finished in 21st in 2:22. He ran a 2:09:56 in Boston seven months earlier.

That New York race - he had placed second and third in the previous two years - seemed to cast a pall over his racing career the next two years. In 2007, he did not finish the London marathon and then failed to make the Olympic team.

His fortunes started to turn in Falmouth last year, with his second runner-up finish. Keflezighi mentioned the USA Half Marathon championships in Houston in January this year as when he got back on track.

He then won cross country nationals (one of 19 national titles) in Maryland in February and solidified his comeback in the London Marathon in April by recording his first personal-best time in five years (2:09:21).

“A 32-second PR, it took a while to get that PR,” he said. “People were thinking I’d go 2:07 - I thought I’d go 2:07 - but I went out too fast. I’m working to get it together this fall.”

That would mean a huge performance in Chicago or New York. Keflezighi’s brother and agent, Merhawi, said the decision could come in the next two or three weeks.

“Meb wants to win his first marathon [after 11 tries],” he said. “He’s never won a marathon. He has a lot of seconds and thirds.”

Keflezighi may already know, although part of it is a business decision.

“I’m not leaning yet, but I know where I’ve run well,” he said. “It would be nice to win - that would be big.”

In the spring, he has another decision - London or Boston - but he did say he’s “interested in going back to Boston to win it this time.”

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