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Is Meb a faker, or somebody a hater? The debate and the marvelous marathon man

Dr. Awet T. Weldemichael ([email protected])
November 3, 2009

The "debate" around Meb Keflezighi has prompted LetsRun.com readers from all walks of life and all corners of the world to write to each other, talk to each other, and email us. Here is an email we received yesterday from a Parisian doctor who came to LetsRun to read about the reaction to Meb's New York win.

At a time when Americans from all walks of life are
celebrating Meb Keflezighi's astounding first place win at the ING NYC Marathon,
it is shocking to read postings that denigrate Meb’s victory – apparently Meb
isn’t truly American, he somehow squeaked in by “taking a test and living in
our country” for some. It is true that some athletes are bought and sold,
competing for countries that pay them most. But Meb isn’t one of them. Attempts
to put Meb in the same category reflects utter lack of knowledge of who the man
is. They also reflect thinly disguised xenophobia and subtle but rampant

Eritreans by origin, Meb & family migrated to the US from Italy in the 1980s. Right there,
you have a conscious choice. Meb and his siblings embraced their new lives in
the US and became active members of their new hometown in San Diego. They went
to school. They learned English. They discovered the joys of peanut butter and
jelly sandwiches, Eddie Murphy and David Letterman. The American Dream lives on
partly because people like Meb and his family keep coming to America and
replenish it through hard earned success.

In high school, Meb took to track and field in the footsteps
of his older brothers – Fitsum and Aklilu. Attending college at UCLA, where he
was an excellent student, Meb won repeated NCAA titles that launched him into
the world of professional athletics on a world scale between 1997 and 1998.

Just as he and his family had to choose between Italy and
the US, as an adult professional athlete Meb had to decide in the 1990s between
running for his native country of Eritrea and his adopted home in America – his
selection had limited bearing on his sponsor-generated funding. Without denying
his roots or compromising his attachment with his native country, Meb made his
choice, one no different from many present-day white Americans’ ancestors.
Meb’s detractors are either ignorant or conveniently prefer to neglect this
obvious fact. Meb prides himself as an Eritrean-American.

Anyone who has done even modest amounts of running
understands what it takes to finish a marathon – the discipline, the sacrifice
and sheer physical pain and stamina is staggering. To win a marathon against the
world’s best runners is a feat worthy of our respect and admiration. Come wind,
come rain, Meb trained hard, sustained injuries and endured disappointments to
become the champion for America that he is now. Disparaging him as a
non-American is disgraceful.

These people should think about what it means to be a real
American – someone like Meb, who never shirked a sacrifice for America. Their
charges and mislabel are insulting to a man of integrity, an athlete of the
first rank, and a proud American champion.

After comparing Meb Keflezighi to “a ringer who you hire to
work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball
league” yesterday, today Darren Rovell of CNBC’s Sports Biz retracted his
mislabeling of Meb and apologized to his credit. In “What I got wrong about
Keflezighi,” Mr. Rovell wrote, “Meb didn't deserve that comparison and I
apologize for that.” It is time that others followed suit.

Dr. Awet T. Weldemichael ([email protected])
November 3, 2009


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