WASHINGTON - Some 36,000 runners from 96 countries took part Monday in the 118th Boston Marathon. Security was tight at the event, following last year’s bombings near the finish line that killed three and wounded more than 260.
An estimated one million people were expected to line the 42.2-kilometer route, from the town of Hopkinton east to Boston’s Boylston Street.
Meb Keflezighi crossed the finish line first, becoming the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in three decades. Keflezighi was born in Eritrea but is now a U.S. citizen.
He wore the names of the bombing victims on his race bib and said last year's attack made him extra motivated to win this year.
"It was not just about me," said the San Diego resident. "I was going to give everything I could for the people."
On the women's side, Rita Jeptoo of Kenya successfully defended the Boston Marathon title she won a year ago but said she couldn't enjoy at the time because of the fatal bombings. Race organizers allowed about 9,000 more runners this year, including roughly 5,000 athletes who were not able to finish last year when twin pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finish line.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said heightened security at the event included more uniformed and plainclothes police scattered throughout the race’s route, as well as a ban on backpacks and large containers near the finish line. Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation" a day before the race, Patrick talked about how safe he expected the race to be.
"We’ve tried to strike a balance between enhanced security and preserving the family feel of this day. One commentator, a friend of ours Mike Barnicle, described the marathon as a 26.2-mile long block party, and there are no strangers here. So, we want to maintain that spirit, but also have considerably more rigor because of the attention the marathon got last year, and the tragedy that ensued, and the demands that we think are quite reasonable for enhanced preparation for this year," said Patrick.
Patrick said there were no known pre-race threats that would cause concern. Last Tuesday, following a memorial service marking the one-year anniversary of last year’s marathon tragedy, police arrested a man with a backpack near the finish line. It contained a rice cooker and was deemed safe.
On April 15, 2013, two explosive devices allegedly hidden in backpacks by two brothers of Chechen descent, 26-year Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 20-year old brother, Dzhokhar, detonated, sending metal fragments through a crowd of bystanders near the finish line on Boylston Street. Several people lost limbs.
The blasts set off a multi-day manhunt that ended with Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead from a shootout with police and Dzhokhar being arrested in a Boston suburb. He is due to go on trial in November on 30 federal charges and could face the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Scott Kennedy, one of the marathon runners, felt participating in this year’s marathon would send a message.
"Just to show the terrorists that they can’t win. I saw a picture a few weeks ago that said ‘We need to take our finish line back,’ and that’s what I think that 36,000 people are going to do tomorrow, is take the finish line back," said Kennedy.
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Canadian runner Mark Rush said the bad guys were not going to take this race away, while British runner Mark Hazelhurst said everyone was aware of what happened last year and people wanted to turn out to run, to celebrate running and celebrate the city of Boston.
Another runner, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, said he was taking part to show solidarity with Americans.
Reuters contributed to this report.