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San Diego’s Meb Keflezighi Is Boston Strong

It was a Boston Marathon finish that went from coast to coast.

San Diego's Meb Keflezighi was the first male runner on Monday to reach the tape, and that had locals reaching for tissues.

"I've been doing this for a long time,'' San Diego running expert Tracy Sundlun said by phone from Boston. "And I've never cried like I did when I saw what happened today.''

On Monday, Keflezighi, 38, put an American touch on the world's grandest running event. One year after a terrorist bombing marred the storied race, Keflezighi became the first U.S. male to win the Boston Marathon since 1983.

"It's just a seminal moment for our sport,'' said Sundlun, senior vice president of San Diego's Competitor Group, which coordinates races worldwide, including the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll marathon and Carlsbad 5K.

"This transcends our sport,'' he said.

Sundlun, a running historian as well as a promoter, possesses the perspective others might lack.

He was at the Munich Olympics when American Frank Shorter won the 1972 marathon, and in Los Angeles when New Englander Joan Benoit captured the first women's marathon in 1984.

"And I've seen some 40 world records be set,'' Sundlun said. "But nothing has ever happened like this.''

Keflezighi, a three-time Olympian, has deep San Diego roots. He's a San Diego High School graduate who lives in Mission Hills with his wife and three daughters. He's a two-time San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon winner and was third last year.

The personable Keflezighi is also a smiling, accessible, ambassador of the San Diego running scene. He always has time and a dose of encouragement for everyone he meets.

Maybe it's because his trek to becoming one of the sport's elite athletes was the result of doing more than the required road work.

"He's the epitome of someone chasing the American dream,'' Sundlun said, as his voice cracked again.

Keflezighi was born in the war-torn African nation of Eritrea, migrating to the U.S. as a 12-year-old. He seldom fails to express his gratitude for the opportunities this country offers.

When starring as a runner at UCLA, the title Keflezighi embraced most was "All-American."

"There is no one more American than Keflezighi,'' Sundlun said. "We all come from some place, but very few chase the American dream like he did. He just wanted it so bad, and believed in the country and himself.''

Which might explain how he shocked the experts handicapping Monday's 118th Boston Marathon.

Just two weeks shy of his 39th birthday, Keflezighi's 26.2-mile run was one for the ages. His last big marathon win came at the 2012 Olympic trials, and before that the 2009 New York Marathon.

"Not a soul had picked him ahead of time,'' Sundlun said.

It was Keflezighi’s soul, as much as his soles, which lifted him to the stunning triumph in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 37 seconds.

"It came from deep inside,'' Sundlun said.

"And it illustrates who he is and where he's come from. He knew what it would mean to America, and to (Boston), for an American to win it.''

A humble Keflezighi distributed thanks at about the same rate race volunteers handed out water.

"I'm blessed to be an American and God Bless America and Boston on this special day, Patriots Day,'' Keflezighi told the media. "I could not think of a better day than for it to happen."

Most everyone knows what happened last year, when two bombs killed three people at the Boston Marathon. An MIT police officer also was killed a few days later while searching for the bombing suspects.

Keflezighi, who attended but didn't run the marathon in 2013, left about 5 minutes before the blasts.

Maybe that's why Keflezighi broke down after breaking the tape. He kissed the ground three times before crying – and he wasn't alone.

"I'm not trying to be flowery or over-exaggerate,'' said Sundlun, who has been at countless Boston, New York and London marathon finish lines. "But that was one of the greatest, greatest, greatest, greatest moments ever. I'm so glad I was there.''

And so was San Diego, on the heels of its greatest runner.

Contact freelance sports writer Jay Paris at Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.

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