2014 Boston Marathon: Winner Talks Being Dubbed a 'Hero,' Getting a Call From the President

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Meb Keflezighi, 38, has had an "amazing" week since he became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years; "People usually say 'congratulations,' but what they've been saying this year is 'thank you,'" he told THR.

Winning the Boston Marathon on Monday, a year after the fatal bombing, was just the start of the adventure for Meb Keflezighi, who has been heralded as a hero since he crossed the finish line close to where the blasts killed three people and injured 264 on April 15, 2013.

The 38-year-old from San Diego, Calif., became the first American to win the historic race since 1983, achieving a personal best time of 2.08.37.

"It has just been amazing," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "People usually say congratulations, but what they've been saying this year is 'thank you.'

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Keflezighi was given the warmest "thank you" that Boston has to offer on Wednesday when he threw out the first pitch at the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway Park. 

"I talked to Derek Jeter, and told David Ortiz how great it was to have the World Series trophy at the finish line. When I saw that, I thought I have got to win it for the victims. 

"You never know what the finish line is going to bring you. I was on Live With Kelly and Michael this week," gushes the long-distance runner, who is a brand ambassador for Skechers and one of the company's Performance Elite Athletes.

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The greatest honor has no doubt been a four-minute phone call that Meb received on Tuesday, when President Barack Obama rang from Air Force One. 

"You know how big a deal it is when the president of the United States calls!" he says. "He told me how proud he was and said 'a job well done,' and 'especially after what happened last year, it was perfect timing.'

"We talked for about four minutes; it was amazing."

Born in Eritrea, Africa, Keflezighi and his family moved to the U.S. in 1987, and he competed in his first Olympics for his adopted country in 2004, where he won a silver medal for the marathon. This was the third time he had run Boston, having finished third and fifth in previous attempts.

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He had been planning to run in 2013 but was sidelined by an injury, so he was on the grandstand near the site of the pressure-cooker explosions on Boylston Street.
"I was there for four hours taking photos and left five minutes before the blast," he tells THR. "The victims were just like me: they were spectators -- if I had been running, my wife would have been there, my kids would have been there. 
"It was a catastrophic moment for us all to be there and watch [the bombings], so to win is beyond running... this is for Boston, for the United States and the world. People needed an American to win it this year. I am thrilled to be the one that did it," he says. 
The crowd of an estimated 1.5 million spectators helped cheer him to victory, says Keflezigh. "I heard them loud and clear, and that drove me through the course. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have won that race -- especially in the last two miles."
Since then, "everyone has been calling me a hero. When I was coming on the flight from Boston yesterday, everyone was taking pictures, and an 82-year-old man told me 'you did us proud.'"

Ready to hang his sneakers up for awhile, Meb says winning Boston was the last thing on his bucket list, and he is now looking ahead to 2016 and Rio de Janeiro.

"The next question is if I can make my fourth Olympic team at age 41," he reveals, no doubt wearing his new namesake Skechers shoe, the GOmeb Speed 3, which launches in the fall.