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By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

Californian Meb Keflezighi became the first American since 1983 to capture the men’s division of the Boston Marathon, as the city that was knocked to its knees by two bomb blasts last year rebounded Monday.

Keflezighi, who began running as a student in San Diego and became a U.S. citizen after an award-winning stint at UCLA, hung on to win the men’s division in 2:08:36. He fought to hold his lead as the racers tore down Boylston Street at the finish.

At the award ceremony, Keflezighi cried as he held the trophy, his head decorated with the symbolic laurels wreath.

Rita Jeptoo won the women’s title in record time, capturing back-to-back championships in a race showcasing the city’s resilience. Jeptoo won the race going away, becoming the seventh woman to win three marathon crowns. Her time was 2 hours, 18 minutes and 57 seconds. The previous course record was 2:20:43.

The crowd, which had been cheering since the early morning, got progressively louder as elite runners crowded the finish line. They were especially loud as members of the National Guard in fatigues sprinted down Boylston. Mark Donnellan watched the award ceremony and said he was happy with the result, especially with an American winning.

“It makes me feel patriotic,” he said.

He was standing at the same spot, near the Forum Restaurant, where he stood last year to watch his son, also named Mark, cross the finish line about a minute before the explosions. He said the crowds were about the same size. They were determined to return.

“It’s irrational to be afraid,” said the younger Mark, 27, who did not run this year.

The sky was sunny and slightly on the cooler side, good for the almost 36,000 runners who intended to brave the grueling 26.2 miles from Hopkinton, Mass., to downtown Boston. For almost a week, the city has been the scene of memorials and tributes designed to commemorate the horror of last year’s bombings, remember the dead, praise first responders and seek emotional renewal.

By about 10:45 a.m. EDT, the first finisher, one of the mobility-impaired participants, crossed the finish line. The elite women, who set a blistering pace, were approaching the halfway point, and the elite men were more than a quarter into their race. The bulk of the runners was starting in three other waves, with the last to step off at 11:25 a.m. EDT — about 35 minutes before the elite runners were likely to cross the finish line.

Participants and spectators also voiced a sense of defiance in the face of last year’s bombing. During a memorial last week, Vice President Joe Biden caught that mood, telling the audience, “We own the finish line!”

Many racers will try to get to the finish line at 2:49 p.m. EDT, the exact moment two bombs went off about 12 seconds apart on April 15, 2013.

Security was tight Monday, with thousands of uniformed police, hundreds of plainclothes officers and about 100 video cameras along the route to monitor the spectators, expected to reach 1 million — twice the usual number of people who visit Boston for the annual race on Patriots Day.

Officials asked people not to bring backpacks — last year’s bombs were hidden in backpacks — but insisted the race would be safe.

Just a year ago, Boston and its suburbs were traumatized by the explosions and the days of the manhunt that closed down one of the nation’s high-profile metropolitan areas for a day.

The bombs, located about 200 yards apart on Boylston Street, turned the finish line area to chaos. Relatives, spectators and first responders rushed to aid the fallen. Dead were Krystle Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and Martin Richard, 8.

AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary

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