When Meb Keflezighi crossed the finish line first in Monday's Boston Marathon, the first American man to win the event since 1983, he had family in Tampa celebrating his victory.
"We have a very big family," said sister-in-law Hadas Asgedom of Tampa. "There are 10 of us."
Keflezighi, who is an American citizen but was born in Eritrea and came to this country as a boy, won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. He lives in San Diego, but his wife, Yordanos, also Eritrean, lived many years in Tampa.
"There is a small Eritrean community here," Asgedom said of the country of about 6 million in the Horn of Africa near Ethiopia. "We all came around the same time … in 1983."
Keflezighi (pronounced ka-FLEZ-ghee) was in Tampa for about three weeks during the Christmas holidays. While here, he trained at the University of Tampa, where another one of his wife's relatives coaches soccer.
The school has put out its share of top runners over the years, thanks to coach Dror Vaknin, one of the bay area's top road racers.
"The guy is just a machine," Vaknin said Monday of Keflezighi, who turns 39 on May 5. "He is an incredible athlete. And to think he went out there and won Boston and he is about to turn 39."
Vaknin said he took Keflezighi out for some road work during his visit here and paced him on a bike.
"I have been coaching since 1991 and have seen some great athletes," Vaknin said. "Meb is right there at the top of the list."
Vaknin said Keflezighi is strong, both mentally and physically, but the thing that was most memorable about the Boston winner was his personality.
"He's very personable," Vaknin said. "He seems thankful for everything he's got."
Asgedom said her brother-in-law also comes from a big family. "He's one of 10, too," she said. "Maybe that's why he and my sister get along so well."
On Twitter, President Barack Obama congratulated Keflezighi and Shalane Flanagan, the top American finisher among the women, "for making American proud!"
Kenya's Rita Jeptoo won the women's race in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds, defending the title she could not celebrate last year because of bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
Keflezighi, who did not run last year because of an injury, won in 2:08:37. Keflezighi wrote the names of the three dead on his bib along with that of the MIT police officer killed during the manhunt for the suspects.
He gave fist bumps to the enormous crowds on Boylston Street. Once across the finish line, he was hugged by Greg Meyer, the last American man to win the race. Keflezighi then bowed to the crowd and waved to the spectators in the grandstand at the finish line. As he was presented with the trophy and golden laurel wreath, The Star-Spangled Banner echoed over Boylston Street.
"I came as a refugee, and the United States gave me hope," said Keflezighi, who was welcomed by fans chanting "U.S.A.!" "This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American, because of what happened last year.''
Keflezighi's seemingly insurmountable lead, 81 seconds after 18 miles, had dwindled to eight seconds over Kenya's Wilson Chebet with less than 2 miles left in the 26.2-mile race. Keflezighi summoned the physical and mental strength to finish 11 seconds ahead of Chebet — he said he "prayed a lot'' while holding on —with a personal best time and became the oldest Boston Marathon men's winner since 41-year-old Clarence DeMar in 1930.
The winners each receive $150,000.
"This is beyond running,'' Keflezighi said. "It's for Boston and the U.S. and the world. We are resilient. We never give up."
Information from Times wires was used in this report.