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Great strides made: 3-4-5 finish

Meb Keflezighi, the top American finisher, hears it from the crowd on Commonwealth Avenue.
Meb Keflezighi, the top American finisher, hears it from the crowd on Commonwealth Avenue. (Globe Staff Photo / Pat Greenhouse)

Robert Cheruiyot won the Boston Marathon for the second time, as he and fellow Kenyan Benjamin Maiyo finished first and second in the 110th running of this famed footrace yesterday.

But a scan of the top finishers makes one thing abundantly clear: The Americans are gaining.

In what Bill Rodgers hailed as ''a new day for the Boston Marathon," American male runners wound up third, fourth, and fifth, and claimed six of the top 11 spots. US runners had not fared this well in Boston since 1985, when they took eight of the top 10 spots.

Meb Keflezighi, 30, of San Diego, a two-time Olympian and a silver medalist in Athens, led the way for the Yanks in his Boston debut. He was third in 2 hours 9 minutes and 56 seconds, which was three seconds shy of his personal best (New York, 2004).

''It was great to be here," said Keflezighi, who moved to the US in 1987 from the East African country of Eritrea, began running at age 12, won three state titles as a senior at San Diego High, and won four NCAA titles at UCLA training under his current coach, Bob Larsen.

''Congratulations to all of the US runners," Keflezighi said. ''I think it was very well done.

''That was a tremendous effort by all of us."

Brian Sell, 28, who trained with the formidable Hansons-Brooks team out of Rochester Hills, Mich., was fourth in his Boston debut in a personal-best 2:10:55. Alan Culpepper, 33, of Lafayette, Colo., was fifth in 2:11:02, his second top five in as many Boston Marathons (he was fourth last year in 2:13:39).

''If you talked about the numbers here," said Hansons-Brooks coach Keith Hanson, scanning the final results, ''it's incredible to say we have third, fourth, and fifth."

Hanson continued down the list. ''And seventh with Peter Gilmore . . . then Clint Verran in 10th . . . and Luke Humphrey in 11th . . . So what is that, six out of 11? It's been a long time since we've had that sort of [result]."

Gilmore, 28, of San Mateo, Calif., finished in 2:12:45, while Hansons-Brooks teammates Verran, 30, of Lake Orion, Mich., and Humphrey, 24, of Rochester, Mich., crossed the line in 2:14:12 and 2:15:23, respectively. In all, the Hansons-Brooks team claimed seven of the top 22 spots.

''I think in the US there's so many other sports, and marathoning and road racing is not really on the radar screen," said Rodgers, a four-time Boston champion who worked as an analyst for Channel 5 yesterday. ''The Boston Marathon, yeah, OK, it's once a year. But I think for the first time Americans are starting to get some coaching and some support. Some of these programs are starting to pay off, and if we support our young people, they'll always come through, and that's what we saw today.

''They might not run quite as fast as the great Kenyans, but they'll run pretty darn good. To see that happen today, it was pretty powerful, especially here at Boston, which had gone through a long kind of a drought. Occasionally, runners would take fourth or fifth, like Culpepper ran great here last year, but to see the depth is nice."

Culpepper said yesterday's results should not be surprising.

''We've seen it coming for a while and we've seen it building," he said. ''This has been a work in progress for the last five or six years. Myself, Meb, this started 10 years ago and Brian showed today that, you know, the fruits of his labor are paying off. I think it bodes very well for the future.

''I think three or four years ago, I don't know if there would have been as many guys to pick up the slack there when the Kenyans were fading or when some of these other guys started to really fade. In years past, they just would have maintained their placing, whereas now guys are coming up from behind and running them down."

Sell said his goal was to maintain a five-minute pace throughout the race, but when he saw the lead group tear out of Hopkinton, ''I just kind of let the pack go and hoped I would see them again," he said. Sell came charging from behind and caught the leaders, passing Culpepper on the course's final left turn at the corner of Hereford and Boylston.

Asked if he kept tally of the runners he passed, Sell said he had not. But, with a chuckle, he added, ''I saw John Korir [of Kenya]. It was nice to pass him."

While that was a symbolic moment, this race still belonged to Kenya. Still, as Rodgers said, American runners have new hope of not only keeping pace with the Kenyans, but passing them.

''The lead male passed me about Mile 25, so I didn't know where Meb and Alan Culpepper and those guys finished," said Emily Levan, 33, of Wiscasset, Maine, who was the top US women's finisher at 13th (2:37:01). ''I found out when I was in the recovery room.

''It was great to see the American men finish, what was it, 3-4-5. I hope that in future years, the US women can have an equally strong showing."

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