"The Star-Spangled Banner" played over Boylston Street in honor of an American winner of the Boston Marathon.
One year after a bombing there killed three people and left more than 260 injured, Meb Keflezighi added Boston to a resume that includes the New York City Marathon title in 2009 and a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics.
Running just two weeks before his 39th birthday, he had the names of the 2013 bombing victims on his bib.
"At the end, I just kept thinking, 'Boston Strong. Boston Strong,'" he said. "I was thinking give everything you have. If you get beat, that's it."
Keflezighi completed the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the finish on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay on Monday in a personal-best 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds. He held off Kenya's Wilson Chebet, who finished 11 seconds behind.
Keflezighi went out early and built a big lead. But he was looking over his shoulder several times as Chebet closed the gap over the final two miles. After realizing he wouldn't be caught, Keflezighi raised his sunglasses, began pumping his right fist and made the sign of the cross. He broke into tears after crossing the finish line, then draped himself in the American flag.
No U.S. runner had won the race since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach took the women's title in 1985; the last American man to win was Greg Meyer in 1983. Meyer and Keflezighi embraced after the race.
"I'm blessed to be an American and God bless America and God Bless Boston for this special day," Keflezighi said.
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya successfully defended the women's title she said she could not enjoy a year ago. Jeptoo finished in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds. She is a three-time Boston Marathon champion, having also won in 2006.
"I came here to support the people in Boston and show them that we are here together," she said. "I decided to support them and show them we are here together."
Jeptoo broke away from a group of five runners at the 23-mile mark. Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia finished second in 2:19:59. Countrywoman Mare Dibaba was third at 2:19:52. All three women came in under the previous course record.
American Shalane Flanagan, who went to high school in nearby Marblehead, Mass., finished seventh after leading for more than half the race. She gambled by setting the early pace, but fell back on the Newton Hills about 21 miles into the race.
"It does mean a lot to be that my city was proud of me," she said. "I'm proud of how I ran. I don't wish I was it was easier. I wish I was better."
After breaking a 27-year American drought at the New York marathon, Keflezighi contemplated retiring after the 2012 NYC Marathon. But that race was canceled because of Superstorm Sandy, and he pulled out of the Boston Marathon in April because of injury.
He was the first American to win a medal in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter won gold in 1972 and silver in 1976. His 2009 New York victory broke a 27-year American drought there.
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Under heavy security that included a battery of surveillance cameras and police officers on rooftops, nearly 36,000 runners hit the streets Monday in the first Boston Marathon since last year's deadly bombing, sending a powerful message of resilience.
"I showed up, I'm back, and I am going to finish what I didn't finish last year," said Mary Cunningham, 50, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who was stopped a mile short of the finish line by the explosions on April 15, 2013.
The two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the end of the 26.2-mile course killed three people and wounded more than 260 in a hellish spectacle of torn limbs, smoke and broken glass.
This year, police were deployed in force along the route, with helicopters circling above and bomb-sniffing dogs checking trash cans.
A total of 35,755 athletes were registered to run, the second-largest field in its history, with many coming to show support for the city and its signature sporting event. "Boston Strong" — the unofficial slogan adopted after the terrorist attack — was everywhere.
"I think I'm going to start crying at the starting line, and I'm not sure I'll stop until I cross the finish line," said Katie O'Donnell, a doctor at Children's Hospital who was stopped less than a mile from the end last year.
At 2:49 p.m., the time the bombs went off, spectators observed a moment of silence at the finish line. It was followed by some of the loudest cheers of the day as people whooped, clapped and rang cowbells.
Joe Ebert, of Hampton, N.H., was cheering on his son-in-law near the spot in downtown Boston where the bombs went off. He was there last year, too.
"Just wanted to let them know that they can't beat us down. I think it makes us all stronger when something like that happens," he said.
Also among the spectators near the finish line was Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the bombing. It was the first time he had returned to the area since the attack.
"It feels great" to be back, he said. "I feel very safe."
Sabrina Dello Russo, 38, of South Boston, was running her first marathon for a good friend, Roseann Sdoia, who lost her right leg in the bombing.
"She is my inspiration from day one last year when I saw her in the ICU. Every run I do, she is in the back of my head, and she will be keeping me going today," Dello Russo said.
While Gov. Deval Patrick said there had been no specific threats against the race or the city, spectators at the 118th running of the world's oldest annual marathon had to go through tight checkpoints before being allowed near the starting and finish lines.
Police along the route examined backpacks, particularly outside subway station exits. And runners had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings.
More than 100 cameras were installed along the course in Boston, and race organizers said 50 or so observation points would be set up around the finish line to monitor the crowd.
Runner Scott Weisberg, 44, from Birmingham, Ala., said he had trouble sleeping the night before.
"With everything that happened last year, I can't stop worrying about it happening again. I know the chances are slim to none, but I can't help having a nervous pit in my stomach," Weisberg said.
Race organizers expanded the field from its recent cap of 27,000 to make room for more than 5,000 runners who were still on the course last year at the time of the explosions, for friends and relatives of the victims, and for those who made the case that they were "profoundly impacted" by the attack.On Twitter, President Barack Obama congratulated Keflizighi and Shalane Flanagan, the top American finisher among the women, "for making American proud!"
"All of today's runners showed the world the meaning of #BostonStrong," Obama wrote.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is awaiting trial in the attack and could get the death penalty. Prosecutors said he and his older brother — ethnic Chechens who came to the U.S. from Russia more than a decade ago — carried out the attack in retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim lands.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.
Associated Press writers Jimmy Golen, Steve Peoples and Rik Stevens in Boston and Paige Sutherland in Wellesley contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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