Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach—a distinguished group, indeed.
This week, we're catching up with Meb Keflezighi.
If you hadn’t heard of Meb Keflezighi before this week, when he became the first American male to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, surely you’re aware of the 38-year-old now.
In Gatorade Player of the Year lore, however, he’s been a household name since 1994. That’s when he captured Gatorade California Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors as a San Diego High senior.
In his final prep track season, Keflezighi swept the 1,600-meter run with a time of 4:07.67 and the 3,200-meter run in 8:58.11, becoming only the third Californian to accomplish the feat. A remarkable video of Keflezighi’s dominant 3,200-meter win in 1994 appears on YouTube.
Keflezighi reportedly owned the state’s fastest 1,600 and 3,200 times among prep competitors that year. He also swept the mile in 4:05.58 and the 3,000-meter run in 8:25.07 at the 1994 National Scholastic Track & Field Championships.
Had Gatorade handed out Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year awards in 1993-94 as the program does now, Keflezighi likely would have taken home that hardware, too. He won California’s Division I individual state cross country championship and placed second at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in 1993.
The following year, he began racing for the man who helped transform him into one of the greatest distance runners in U.S. history, former UCLA coach Bob Larsen. Keflezighi won four NCAA national titles, captured a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and became the only American to win the New York City Marathon since 1982.
All of that, though, was a precursor to his victory in Boston. Considering the city’s resilience after the bombings last year and Keflezighi’s own perseverance since emigrating as a refugee from the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1987, the two converged in a wonderful moment Mondayat the finish line on Boylston Street.
Adding to Keflezhigi’s improbable win is the story of how his fellow Americans—led by two-time Gatorade California Boys Track & Field AOY Ryan Hall—helped him achieve victory. Hall led a group of his countrymen, including Gatorade alumnus Jason Hartmann (Michigan, 1998), in a successful effort to slow the pace behind Keflezhigi.
Likewise, the only American female in the top 10 at this year’s Boston Marathon, Shalane Flanagan, counts herself as a Gatorade alumna. Her seventh-place finish comes 14 years after she was named 1999-2000 Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.