London • They say fourth place is the worst place to finish at the Olympics, but Meb Keflezighi was feeling pretty good about it Sunday.
He’s 37 years old, most likely in his last Olympics. He won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games and broke his hip at the 2008 Olympic Trials, where friend and training partner Ryan Shay died of a heart attack.
“May Ryan Shay rest in heaven,” Keflezighi said.
Keflezighi couldn’t walk last April because of an injury to his gluteus muscles and wasn’t able to train normally until late June. So he was happy to be here, even happier to run well under the circumstances.
“Did I want to finish fourth — no,” said Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea who came to the U.S. when he was 12 and ran in three Olympics for his adopted country. “But at the world (championships) or Olympic Games I’ll take it, especially considering that I did not make the Olympics in 2008. I am very proud of myself and our country to finish fourth.”
Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda broke out of a three-man pack late in the race to win his country’s first-ever gold medal in a distance race at the Olympics, finishing in two hours, eight minutes, one second, ahead of Kenyans Abel Kirui and Wilson Kiprotich Kipsang, who took silver and bronze.
Keflezighi finished in 2:11:06 — not bad, considering his greatly abbreviated training cycle allowed for only one tempo run and one session of mile repeats.
“I told coach [Bob Larson], ‘If I could have two more weeks, I know I can run 2:07 or faster,’” Keflezighi said. “The longest tempo I did was 12 miles.”
Keflezighi stood 17th at the half-marathon mark but worked his way through two chase packs, trying to pass as many runners as he could. He was no threat to the medal winners but beat everyone else.
“Meb personifies what it means to be an American and a marathoner,” said Mary Wittenberg, race director of the New York City Marathon. “Huge heart and talent, with a work ethic to match. Incredibly impressive run. With less than perfect preparation, he again shows he’s one of the smartest racers we’ve ever seen.
“He should hold his head and our flag up very high today.”
The other Americans in the race — Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman — dropped out within minutes of each other before reaching the midway point. Abdirahman felt something in his knee “pop,” and Hall had a hamstring problem.
“Not finishing a race is not an option unless I think I’m going to do serious damage to my career,” Hall said. “Those last couple of miles I’m weighing in my head, ‘Do I sit out here, and could I have run 26 miles and finish in three hours or something?’ But my stride was getting worse and worse … This wasn’t something I could work through.”