In the wake of Meb Keflezighi's stunning NYC Marathon victory on Sunday — the first win by an American citizen since 1982 — a battle has erupted in the running world over whether or not the Eritrean-born athlete qualifies as an American runner. Though he didn't start training or running competitively until he immigrated to the United States at age 12, many claim the Keflezighi should be considered an East African runner because of his heritage, the Times reports.
While many claim that Keflezighi isn't a real American (including some commenters on this post), others say the argument over his perceived Americanness is steeped in racial bias. The Times points out that following the recent success of Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners, Keflezighi may be the victim of "a lore of East Africans as genetically gifted, unbeatable, dominant because of their biology." As such, he is coming under scrutiny that was never faced by other foreign born athletes who represented America, like Knicks Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who was born in Jamaica.
The last American citizen to win the race, Cuban-born runner Alberto Salazar, told the paper that he doesn't see the logic in not considering Keflezighi an American runner. “What if Meb’s parents had moved to this country a year before he was born?” he said. At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?” For his part, Meb said people have long complained he wasn't American enough. “I’ve had to deal with it,” said Keflezighi, who won a silver medal for American in the Athens Olympics and before crossing the finish line at the NYC Marathon, pointed repeatedly to the letters "U.S.A." on his racing singlet. “But, hey, I’ve been here 22 years. And the U.S.A. is a land of immigrants. A lot of people have come from different places.”
Not all of today's interesting marathon news is about the front of the pack. Last place finisher Zoe Koplowitz, 61, crossed the line yesterday at 11:15 am — 28 hours and 45 minutes after she started the race. Koplowitz, a motivational speaker and author who suffers from diabetes and multiple sclerosis, completed her 21st NYC Marathon with the help of three supporters and a pair of purple crutches.