100% American … or Maybe Not

I was born here in the United States.  My parents were both born here in the States.  My grandparents … well, that’s where it gets a bit mixed up.  See, somewhere in there, we’ve got a bit of Italian in our blood.  We have no idea who it came from so we don’t know if that person was born here in the States or born overseas.  So somewhere around the early 1900s, my family’s lineage might deviate from being American at some point.  I would be willing to wager though that no one would question that I’m an American.

Photo courtesy Runners World

Why do I bring this up?

Because Meb Keflezighi won the New York Marathon on Sunday.  He was the first American to win in 27 years.  He’s also the first American in 33 years to bring home an Olympic medal in the Marathon (Silver).  And as soon as he crossed the finish line, I knew an article like this one in the New York Times would show up.  Because Meb was born in Eritrea.

That’s right – an African country.

Africans have dominated the long distance running scene for years.  Genetics?  Dunno.  There’s been research into it and nothing’s been found.  I personally believe it’s more of a culture thing.  Running there is considered a viable lifestyle, a way of heritage and history.  It’s also a way out of poverty.  Win one big marathon (Meb got $130,000 for his victory) and you can live like royalty for quite a while.  Take a look around and you’ll find a ton of information about how they train in Africa.  It’s insane.

Here, running is considered a way to stay in shape.  It’s not a sport in most people’s minds.  Save that for football or baseball.  Hell, a single athlete in baseball probably gets more sponsorships than the entire running community gets in a year.  Runners like Ryan Hall or Brian Sells have to work part-time/full-time jobs.  Hall finished 4th at New York, by the way.

At one point do you consider the cut off to be an American?  Meb’s been here since he was 12 years old.  He’s currently 34.  So he’s spent most of his life in the United States. He trained in the States with other runners, attended college in California, and had to go through most of the same experiences.  There comes a point where genetics cannot play a factor.

Not knocking on the other runners, but while most of them wore singlets bearing the names of their sponsors, Meb wore a USA singlet.  Those final miles into Central Park, he kept pointing to that shirt and beating his chest.  He knew what this meant for American running.*

And there’s still naysayers.  *sigh*  I’d be willing to wager that Meb knows more about being an American than most of those questioning his success.  And if they truly want to push it, well, lace up your shoes and get your native-born American ass out there and run faster.

* This is not to knock the other Americans.  Six of the top 10 finishers were Americans.  That’s an awesome showing.

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