NYC Marathon Winner Not American Enough for Some

Eritrean-born Meb Keflezighi's victory sparks dispute
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2009 8:24 AM CST
Meb Keflezighi, of the United States holds a US flag after winning the men's division of the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009, in New York.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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(Newser) – On Sunday Meb Keflezighi became the first American since 1982 to win the New York City Marathon...according to some. Keflezighi, an American citizen who arrived from the East African country of Eritrea at age 12, had barely crossed the finish line before a debate erupted on how American he really is. He's "like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league," argued one CNBC columnist, echoing the theme of many online comments.

The controversy reveals assumptions about race and athletics that are rarely voiced nowadays, experts tell the New York Times. While beliefs about certain races having innate physiological gifts persist, Keflezighi did all his training as an American, notes Alberto Salazar, the last American to win the marathon (himself an immigrant). "What if Meb’s parents had moved to this country a year before he was born?” Salazar asks. "At what point is someone truly American? “Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?”