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Marathon's Headline Win Is Empty

Wednesday, 4 Nov 2009 | 10:30 AM ET

It's a stunning headline: American Wins Men's NYC Marathon For First Time Since '82.

Meb Keflezighi of the US celebrates his victory in the New York City Marathon November 1, 2009 in New York
Don Emmert | AFP | Getty Images
Meb Keflezighi of the US celebrates his victory in the New York City Marathon November 1, 2009 in New York

Unfortunately, it's not as good as it sounds.

Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he's not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.

Nationality in running counts. It's why many identify Kenya as the land of the long distance champions.

As for the United States? Not so much.

It has been well-documented that since the mid-80's, Americans haven't had much success in the marathon. Many cite lack of motivation as the root of our troubles, as in our best athletes devote their lives to sports where they can make big money instead of collecting the relatively small paychecks that professional running offers. That, of course, is not the case with African runners, who see in the same winner's check a lifetime full of riches.

Given our disappointing results, embracing Keflezighi is understandable. But Keflezighi's country of origin is Eritrea, a small country in Africa. He is an American citizen thanks to taking a test and living in our country.

Nothing against Keflezighi, but 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.

The positive sign was that some American-born runners did extremely well in yesterday's men's race.

If any of them stand on the top step of the podium in Central Park one day, that's when I'll break out my red, white and blue.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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