Daily Archives: November 4, 2009

NYC Marathon Winner: Not American Enough?

Wow. Another great morning for a predawn run here in NE Ohio. And I didn’t quite cover marathon distance: short by 21 miles and change, without putting too fine a point on it. But I was up and moving and thinking about the kerfuffle surrounding the NYC Marathon Sunday and winner Meb Keflezighi.

Oh boy. Here’s the back-story.

articleInlineMeb and his family came to the United States from Eritrea when he was 12. Sunday he became the first American male to win the NYC Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982. And Meb did it with class, humility and sporting a running shirt that proudly proclaimed U.S.A. (Photo credit: Uli Seit for The New York Times.)

For a running jingoist like me, that seems pretty neat. Dare I say it: woot! But apparently not everyone agrees.

Here’s from a NYT story yesterday by Gina Kolata, “Truly American? Debate Dogs a Triumph in a Marathon“:

As soon as Mebrahtom Keflezighi, better known as Meb, won the New York City Marathon on Sunday, an uncommon sports dispute erupted online, fraught with racial and nationalistic components: Should Keflezighi’s triumph count as an American victory?

He was widely celebrated as the first American to win the New York race since 1982. Having immigrated to the United States at age 12, he is an American citizen and a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels.

But, some said, because he was born in Eritrea, he is not really an American runner.

The debate reveals what some academics say are common assumptions and stereotypes about race and sports and athletic achievement in the United States. Its dimensions, they add, go beyond the particulars of Keflezighi and bear on undercurrents of nationalism and racism that are not often voiced.

“Race is still extremely important when you think about athletics,” said David Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University who studies African-Americans and sports. “There is this notion about innate physiological gifts that certain races presumably possess. Quite frankly, I think it feeds into deep-seated stereotypes. The more blatant forms of racial discrimination and illegal forms have been eliminated, but more subtle forms of discrimination still exist.”

“Should Keflezighi’s triumph count as an American victory?”

Maybe Meb answers that question better than anyone. Here’s from Kolata’s article:

Keflezighi said on Monday that remarks about his heritage were not new. “I’ve had to deal with it,” he said. “But, hey, I’ve been here 22 years. And the U.S.A. is a land of immigrants. A lot of people have come from different places.”

C’mon folks — get a grip on reality. And not just the reality of Meb Keflezighi winning the marathon — but the reality of the changing demographics of this nation in general.

And, by the way. Alberto Salazar was born in Cuba.