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A year after tragedy, Boston Marathon displays humankind at its best


When the digital clocks along Boylston Street flashed 2:49 on Marathon Monday, nothing out of the ordinary happened. And that was reason for joyous celebration.

At that moment last year, the first of two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260 people. At that same moment this year, as the city held its collective breath for a moment of silence, runners crossed the line without incident. That feat sent up a Super Bowl's worth of cheers from throngs of spectators, who clapped, hooted and rang cowbells under the warm afternoon sun.

"They got their city back!" said Kay Weir, 50, a runner from San Diego, who was one of several people crossing the finish line at that moment. "I'm stoked," she said, despite having just run 26.2 miles, the first mile of which she spent in tears remembering the events of last year.

Monday was the day that Boston reclaimed the finish line, converting a symbolic wound on the city's psyche back to its utilitarian function as the end point of one of the world's oldest and most prestigious road races. Of course it will always be the scene of last year's crime. But the footfalls of thousands of runners on Monday pounded down its symbolic significance.

Even the moment of silence did not last. It had barely begun before it was lost in the cheers for runners who pressed on over the finish line at 2:49.

"What a time to come in, what a moment to come in," the announcer marveled over the public address.

Fueling the celebratory atmosphere, an American won the men's race for the first time in three decades. Meb Keflezighi, 38, finished in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds, a personal best and the second-fastest time ever for an American man at Boston.

"I did it for Boston," Keflezighi said. He had inscribed on his running bib the names of those who were killed last year.

"I knew (the Kenyan pursuers) were coming for me," Keflezighi said. "But I kept thinking, 'Boston Strong. Boston Strong. Meb Strong. Meb Strong.' It couldn't happen at a better time, to win for America."

A year ago, Keflezighi, injured at the time, was among the spectators near the finish line. He left to go to his hotel room about five minutes before the bombs detonated not far from the spot he had just left. On that day, as on this one, Keflezighi clutched a loved one and cried. Only this time, he said, "They were tears of joy."

A crowd of 1 million, double the usual number, came out to support more than 35,000 runners. Security was intensified, with 3,500 uniformed and undercover police officers as well as bomb squads and tactical units.

The top athletes repeatedly expressed solidarity with Boston and with those who lost loved ones or were maimed last year. Tatyana McFadden, 25, winner of the wheelchair race, said she recently met the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old killed at the finish line last year, and that Jane, Martin's now-8-year-old sister, who lost her left leg last year, came bounding over to show off her new prosthesis.

Jane, who plays basketball, swims and is an all-around athlete, took selfies with her camera of McFadden's medals from the Paralympics at Sochi, Russia, and declared herself an Olympian. "You are, Jane," McFadden told her.

"She had such energy for a new life and a sparkle in her eyes," McFadden said in an interview.

"It's like this is a new beginning in lots of ways, including for people learning how to live with disabilities," said McFadden, who was born in Russia with spina bifida.

Keflezighi also spoke with Martin's father, Bill Richard, before the race. He said they agreed that some things, like the death of a child, could not be explained but that Martin lives on as an inspiration. He said Richard told him that it might have been easier had Martin been killed in a car crash than at a big annual event like the Boston Marathon, which makes the family's grieving so public.

Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who won the women's race last year, was again the winner Monday with a course record-breaking time of 2:18:57. She also won here in 2006 and is one of five women to have won the race at least three times.

But the crowd was closely watching Shalane Flanagan, who grew up in nearby Marblehead, and who, just days after completing last year's race, declared her intention to run this year.

"I wanted to send a message that I was not afraid to be back here," she said, choking up at a post-race news conference.

"When you feel a great sense of purpose, there's great meaning in everything you do," she said of her training. "I wasn't just doing it for myself, but for my city, my family and my nation and there's no better motivation."

Sarah Norcott of Boston was a spectator last year. With her husband, Jim, running this year, she wanted to make the race about something other than last year's violence.

☺ "I just don't want to think about bombings anymore," she said. "I don't want them overpowering the meaning of the Boston Marathon."

With that in mind, she held up a sign for her husband to see as he ran by. It informed him that their new baby would be a boy.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

A year after tragedy, Boston Marathon displays humankind at its best 04/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 12:15am]
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