When going through the list of UCLA Olympians, it was difficult to choose just one person to feature. I would be remiss to ignore greats such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson, Karch Kiraly, and many more. We decided to feature Meb Keflezighi, Class of 1998, distance runner.
When Keflezighi attended UCLA, he won four NCAA titles in one year - the cross country championship, the indoor 5,000 meters championship, and the 5,000 and 10,000 outdoor titles in 1997. You could call him the best UCLA distance runner in history.
Meb's race, the marathon, has its roots in Greek legend. The route in 2004 mirrored the route of the Greek legend of Phidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon, only to collapse and die when he delivered his message.
At the 2004 Olympics, Keflezgihi ran the marathon, the most historic race in Olympics history. He ran a steady race, staying in 11th to 12th place throughout most of the race, with a first half pace of 1:07:40, which would have resulted in a final time of 2:15 (a marathon is 26.2 miles!!!) but his negative splits in the second half led to a final full marathon time of 2:11.29 and the silver medal. Keflezgihi was able to move up into second when a protestor attacked race leader Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil 4 miles from the finish line and held on.
The win was significant - it started Keflezgihi on a path of running superstardom. It was the first American marathon medal since 1976. He went on to win the NYC Marathon in 2009, the first American to do so since 1982. In addition, he is a two-time Olympic Trials 10,000m champion, in 2000 (28:08.32) and 2004 (27:36.49), a three-time USA 12km cross country champion, in 2001, 2002 (35:45) and 2009 (36:06) and a six-time USA 15km champion. He is currently the American 20km record holder. While he didn't qualify for the 2008 Olympics, as he fell and broke his hip during the trials, he won the Olympic Trials this year and is ready to represent the USA (and UCLA) once again.
He's even becoming a household name, as he is currently being featured in commercials for Citibank on mobile check deposits! Congrats Meb, and best of luck this year in London.
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