AROUND 45 MINUTES INTO the 2014 Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi broke free of the leading pack. To a man, the favourites let him go. They would not have seen the Eritrean-born US runner as much of a threat: a 38-year-old dropped by his main sponsor, Nike, three years earlier, after they concluded his best days were behind him. His 23rd-place finish in the previous year’s New York City Marathon had seemed to confirm Nike’s judgment.
The TV crew covering the race must have felt the same. Even as Keflezighi extended his lead to over a minute, the director focused on the group behind, which included defending champion Lelisa Desisa. Keflezighi, meanwhile, was way out in front. With less than six kays to go, two Kenyans, 28-year-old Wilson Chebet and 29-year-old Frankline Chepkwony, gave chase. Shaving more than 12 seconds off their kilometre splits, they closed the gap to 30 seconds, then 20, then 10. With a little over 1 600m left, Chebet was a mere 6.2 seconds behind.
But watching on TV – by now they’d cottoned on – Keflezighi’s coach Bob Larsen read the body language of the two runners: Chebet’s ragged and pained, Keflezighi’s compact and linear. “I said, ‘I think Meb’s going to hold them off,’” he recalls. Moments later, Keflezighi glanced over his shoulder and saw what Larsen had seen. He pumped his fist, crossed himself, and – in a new personal best o