San Diego, CA – June 1, 2011 – The streets of San Diego will be alive with music and the excitement created by fans of hometown hero Meb Keflezighi during Sunday’s Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & ½ Marathon To Benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society®. Keflezighi, running on the roads in the city he grew up in for the first time as a professional, will have plenty of supporters among the crowd, including his parents, brother, sister, wife, children, friends, former classmates and many in the community who have watched his rise to stardom with pride.
“It will be something special,” Keflezighi said, of his pro debut in San Diego. “I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to doing it. It’s an opportunity for a lot of (familiar) people to see me. It should be fun running in the city where I grew up. I don’t get that treat very often. I’ve always wanted to do it.”
The diminutive Keflezighi, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen upon his graduation from UCLA in 1998, finished second in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, becoming the first U.S. medalist in the event since Frank Shorter won gold in 1972 and silver in 1976. He will be trying to regain the form that has made him one of the world’s premier distance runners.
After his performance this Sunday, Meb plans to continue running in shorter road races throughout the rest of this year and next. His only commitments are to the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 6 and the U.S. Olympic marathon trials Jan. 14 in Houston. Should he make the U.S. team – he missed out in 2008 because of a pelvic injury incurred during the Trials in Central Park where he placed eighth – it will be on to London for the 2012 Games.
Matt Turnbull, the Elite Athlete Manager for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, is elated to have Keflezighi competing. He was scheduled to run in the race last year, but was injured.
“A hometown performance is always a special moment for an athlete like Meb. He went to San Diego high school and hasn’t returned to run since he won in New York,” said Turnbull, referencing Keflezighi’s 2009 New York Marathon victory, the first American to claim the title in 27 years. “He’ll have so many friends and family there and he’ll want to win for that reason alone. It’s exciting to have him racing on the roads of San Diego for the first time.”
While most of the attention will be centered on Keflezighi, Turnbull thinks it’s possible that the men’s event record in the marathon – 2:08:33, set by Kenya’s Philip Tarus in 1999 – could be broken. The elite field is vying for a prize purse that will award $25,000 to the champion.
William Kipsang of Kenya is the fastest of the group, with a 2:04:57 personal record (PR) from the Frankfurt Marathon in 2008. He recently set his PR for 25k in Berlin last month. The other favorites are Ethiopians Nagari Terfa (2:07:41) and Daniel Abera (2:09:53), who set a course record at the Sevilla Marathon in February and is the younger brother of Olympic and World Marathon champion Gezahegn Abera. Potential challengers include Kenya’s Gilbert Chepkwony, with a PR of 2:08:33, and Ethiopia’s Yakob Jarso, who is making his marathon debut, but ran a 1:00:07 for the half-marathon last year in New Delhi.
“We have a good group of guys who can attack 2:08,” Turnbull said. “It’s going to be tough to call a winner. Kipsang has the credentials. He has the pedigree and knows how to win. If we can have a good, competitive race with three or four guys close to the course record, we’ll be happy.”
The women’s field will be without three-time defending champion Yulia Gromova of Russia, who is injured, but will not lack for talent. Heading the group is Kenya’s Salina Kosgei, winner of the 2009 Boston Marathon and the third-place finisher last year. Kosgei, who owns a PR of 2:23:22, has also won marathons in Paris and Singapore, finished second at Tokyo and twice placed fourth at London.
“She’s a star athlete and we’re delighted she’s coming here,” Turnbull said. “She’s at the peak of her career.”
Her top challengers include Kenya’s Helena Kirop, twice the third-place finisher at the Berlin Marathon; Albina Mayorova-Ivanova of Russia, who has won twice at Nagano and once each at Singapore and Dubai, and Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba, winner of the Los Angeles Marathon two months ago. Deba recently won the Healthy Kidney 10k in New York as part of her build up to San Diego.
Marathon weekend will kick off with a Health & Fitness Expo presented by Power Balance at the San Diego Convention Center. 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up Desiree Davila, who will be making her first public appearance in her hometown of San Diego since Boston, will be on-hand at the Dodge Expo Booth to autograph posters on Friday, June 3 from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 4 from 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The marathon and half marathon start at 6:15 am on Sunday, June 5. The marathon route begins at 6th Ave. and Quince St, running through Balboa Park, downtown San Diego, PETCO Park, with a bayfront finish adjacent to SeaWorld. Event weekend concludes with a finish line festival and post race concert headlined by Nada Surf. For more information, visit here.