BOSTON (AFP) — Tens of thousands of runners, cheered by a multitude of spectators, streamed through the streets of Boston Monday to reclaim the world’s oldest marathon from the fear left by last year’s deadly twin bombing.
More than 3,500 police, double the size of the force last year, kept watch to prevent any replay of the ghastly carnage that devastated the race on April 15, 2013 when two explosive devices tore through the crowds at the finish line.
Three people were killed and 264 injured in a rain of shrapnel.
The festive atmosphere was only heightened when Meb Keflezighi became the first American man since 1983 to win the event. Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won her second women’s title in a row and third overall.
The Eritrea-born Keflezighi said he hoped his victory would help the city heal, in the way Boston’s beloved Red Sox triumphed in the World Series last year.
“It was my dream to win Boston and to make it just like the Red Sox did and do the same thing for the people,” Keflezighi said.
Amby Burfoot, the 1968 winner who was running Monday at age 67 after being kept from finishing the 2013 race because of the attack, highlighted the “very resilient” nature of the competitors — and the city.
“At the end of the day, we all say Boston lives, Boston strong, Boston endures forever,” he told AFP.
Moment of silence
A moment of silence was observed at the starting line in Hopkinton, just before the first wave of runners set off on the 26.2-mile course through Boston.
Disabled participants in wheelchairs were the first to go, followed by the elite runners.
A clear blue sky, sunshine and cool weather greeted the participants — 36,000 runners from all over the world, 9,000 more than last year and near the record 38,708 on the marathon’s centenary in 1996.
A series of draconian safety measures were imposed for this year’s event, including a “no backpack” rule.
The Chechen brothers who allegedly carried out the 2013 attack, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hid pressure-cooker bombs in their backpacks.
“We’ve tried to strike a balance between enhanced security and preserving the family feel of this day,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said.
‘We will never forget them’
Across the city, people could be seen wearing “Boston Strong” shirts, with banners bearing the mantra proudly displayed in stores, restaurants and hotels.
“We don’t let terrorists win here. We come back, doesn’t matter — they aren’t going to stop us,” said Rudy Duplissis, who came with his wife Claire to watch their daughter Leah run her third marathon.
As they did last year, the couple set up folding chairs near the finish line.
“They took enough precautions — I feel safe,” said Claire.
Chicago native Kevin Havel, 24, ran the race — which coincides with the state’s Patriots’ Day — for the first time.
“I loved the crowd here. I didn’t know what to expect but every mile people cheered and I think that pushed me to the finish,” Havel told AFP.
“I will definitely be back.”
Fans the ‘star attraction’
Several former winners were also taking part on Monday, including America’s Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won in 1979 and 1983, and last year’s winner, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa.
The 24-year-old Desisa has met several victims of the attacks, calling them “an inspiration,” and has said he will be running again to show that he has no fear.
Run every year since 1897, the Boston Marathon is one of the six biggest foot races in the world and part of the prestigious World Marathon Majors circuit.
“The fans are the star attraction,” said Burfoot. “We are 36,000 runners and we are lucky because we are going down the middle of a parade, with fans on both sides of the road.”
The Tsarnaev brothers were identified as perpetrators of the attacks within days thanks to footage from cameras and thousands of photographs.
Tamerlan, 26, was shot by police on April 19, 2013, after killing an officer and Dzhokhar, now 20, was captured and stands accused of 30 federal charges. He is awaiting trial and could face the death penalty if convicted.