AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Boston Marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo tries on a victor's wreath near the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) The Associated Press
The 118th Boston Marathon began this morning amid a large police presence that greeted runners and spectators who filtered in Monday morning, a year after a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line killed three people and wounded more than 260.
A moment of silence was observed and America the Beautiful was played over a loudspeaker before the race began for mobility-impaired marathoners.
"I showed up, I'm back, and I am going to finish what I didn't finish last year," said Mary Cunningham, 50, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who was stopped a mile short of the finish line by the explosions last year.
Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray said it had been a long and difficult year.
"We're taking back our race," he said. "We're taking back the finish line."
American Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon, running the race in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya successfully defended the women's title. She finished Monday's race in a women's course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds and became the seventh three-time Boston Marathon champion
The first entrants crossed the starting line at 8:50 a.m. Monday in the mobility-impaired division. The elite men and women runners started later in the morning.
Earlier, despite heightened security, the mood was festive at the fine line on Boylston Street. Spontaneous applause broke out as a group of Boston police officers walked near the site of last year's twin bombing and children danced as the Rolling Stones' song Start Me Up blared over the loudspeakers.
About 36,000 runners registered for the race — the second-largest field in its history — many of them coming to show support for the event and the city that was shocked by the attack on its signature sporting event.
"I can't imagine the number of emotions that are going to be there," said Katie O'Donnell, who was running the marathon last year and made it 41 kilometres before she was stopped about a kilometre from the finish line when the twin bombs exploded. "I think I'm going to start crying at the starting line and I'm not sure I'll stop until I cross the finish line."
The most obvious change for the 118th edition of the world's oldest annual marathon was the heavy security presence. State and local police officers were everywhere Monday, even on the rooftops of some buildings.
A bus dropping off runners had the words "Boston Strong" on the electronic sign at the front that usually posts the bus's destination. A banner posted on a commercial building in Hopkinton read: "You are Boston Strong. You Earned This."
Spectators coming to the start line had to pass through police checkpoints.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick spoke Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation about the increased police presence.
However, he said organizers didn't want the race run "through a militarized zone," so organizers "struck that balance" with the police presence.
Authorities say two brothers — ethnic Chechens who lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and the Dagestan region of Russia — planned and orchestrated the twin bombings near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. Authorities said the bombs were made from pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails and other shrapnel that were concealed in backpacks.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died following a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and is awaiting a trial in which he faces a possible death sentence. Prosecutors say the brothers also killed MIT police officer Sean Collier several days after the bombings in an attempt to steal his gun.
Prosecutors have said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left a hand-scrawled confession condemning U.S. actions in Muslim countries on the inside wall of a boat he was found hiding in following the police shootout.
More than 100 security cameras
Runners attending the event Monday had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings, and fans hoping to watch near the finish line were encouraged to leave strollers and backpacks behind. More than 100 cameras have been installed along the route in Boston, and 50 or so "observation points" will be set up around the finish line "to monitor the crowd," the Boston Athletic Association said.
Patrick said there have been no specific threats against the race or the city for the Massachusetts holiday of Patriots' Day.
"We're not taking that as a sign to sort of stand down," he said. "We're very prepared, and we're assuring people as much as we can that it'll be a fun day and a safe one."
Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Kenya's Rita Jeptoo, who crossed the finish line on Boylston Street about three hours before the explosions, will return to defend their championships. Desisa returned to Boston last fall to donate his first-place medal to the city as a gesture of support.
Tinged with sadness
Jeptoo, who also won the race in 2006, said she is hoping for a third victory — and one she can enjoy.
"It was very difficult to be happy. People were injured and children died," she said of last year's marathon. "If I'm going to win again, I hope I can be happier and to show people, like I was supposed to last year."
Even as runners focused on the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the festive atmosphere was inevitably tinged with sorrow a day ahead of the race as they picked up last-minute supplies.
Marathon runners were blessed at an emotional church service that celebrated Easter and remembered the victims, while heightened security measures, including bag checks, were in place at marathon events.
For years, state and local officials conducted a "tabletop exercise" before the Boston Marathon, a meeting that allows them to study a map of the 42-km course from Hopkinton to Boston's Copley Square and plan for emergencies that could arise during the race.
So many new people needed to attend the session this year that they moved it from the state's emergency bunker in Framingham to the a convention centre in the city. The crowd grew from what usually is about 100 to more than 450, according to Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk, who is in charge of organizing the race.
"Whether you have a small group or a big group, the spirit is the same," he said this month in an interview at the athletic association's office, about two blocks from the finish line. "And that is: How do we get our event done well?"