BOSTON - Meb Keflezighi was standing in the grandstand last year when the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line.
One year later, the 38-year-old from San Diego wore the names of the four victims who died on his running bib Monday as he became the first American winner since 1985.
"At the end, I just kept thinking, 'Boston Strong. Boston Strong,'" Keflezighi said. "I was thinking, 'Give everything you have.' "
Keflezighi broke into tears after crossing the finish line, then draped himself in the American flag.
Keflezighi and his family immigrated to the U.S. as refugees from Eritrea in northeastern Africa when he was 12 years old. He went to middle school and high school in San Diego.
"I'm blessed to be an American and God bless America and God Bless Boston for this special day," Keflezighi said.
Keflezighi became the first American to win the men's division since Greg Meyer in 1983 and the first American winner since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach took the women's title in 1985.
Written in marker in small, neat letters in each corner of his bib were the names Krystle, Lingzi, Martin and Sean.
Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Martin Richard were killed in the bombings during last year's race. MIT Officer Sean Collier was killed by one of the bombing suspects during the manhunt days later.
Keflezighi completed the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the finish on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay in a personal-best 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds. He held off Kenya's Wilson Chebet, who finished 11 seconds behind.
The last 12 men’s Boston Marathon titles have been won by a runner from Ethiopia or Kenya.
Keflezighi went out early and built a big lead. But he was looking over his shoulder several times as Chebet closed the gap over the final two miles. After realizing he wouldn't be caught, Keflezighi raised his sunglasses, began pumping his right fist and made the sign of the cross.
When Keflezighi won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, he became first American man to win a medal in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter won gold in 1972 and silver in 1976.
In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American man to win the New York City Marathon since 1982.
He pulled out of the 2013 Boston Marathon because of injury.
Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, defended her title in the women’s race with a winning time of 2:18.57, a course record. She is a three-time Boston Marathon champion, having also won in 2006.
"I came here to support the people in Boston and show them that we are here together," Jeptoo said.
American Shalane Flanagan, who went to high school in nearby Marblehead, Mass., finished seventh after leading for more than half the race. She gambled by setting the early pace, but fell back on the Newton Hills about 21 miles into the race.
"It does mean a lot to be that my city was proud of me," she said. "I'm proud of how I ran. I wish I was better."
Tatyana McFadden of the United States won the women's wheelchair race on her 25th birthday. It was the second straight year she won the race.
McFadden was born in Russia and lived in an orphanage as a child before starring at the University of Illinois.
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won the men's wheelchair division for the 10th time – but first since 2010.
Marathon officials said 35,755 runners registered for the race, with 32,408 unofficial starters. The field included just less than 5,000 runners who did not finish last year and accepted invitations to return this year.