NEW YORK - After Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor made history in Athens, the town where they train decided to honor them with a parade they would never forget.
So the people of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., shipped in Greek columns and statues from a hotel in Las Vegas, decorated them with ivy and placed them around the town square.
A banner on Main Street read, "Congratulations Deena and Meb, Mammoth Olympians." And then, the defining moment: Keflezighi and Kastor jogged down a red carpet to cheers and applause as the new royalty of American distance running.
"It was a great celebration," Kastor said Thursday. "It was very generous and nice for the town to do something like that."
The party came about a month after Kastor won bronze and Keflezighi took silver in Greece, marking the first time the United States won two medals in the 26.2-mile race at the same Olympics.
Now comes the big question.
Can the excitement over their triumph help the Americans sustain a consistent level of success against the world in the event? Keflezighi and Kastor get their chance to show their medals were no fluke Sunday when they run in the New York City Marathon.
They will have their work cut out for them. Both fields feature several Olympians, but this could be the strongest starting lineup for the women. Kastor must run against defending NYC Marathon champion Margaret Okayo, world record-holder Paula Radcliffe, 2003 third-place marathon finisher Lornah Kiplagat and cross country champion Benita Johnson.
"The field is just incredible," Kastor said.
Life certainly has changed for Keflezighi and Kastor since Athens. Both are more recognized, and being targeted for their success.
Kastor became the first American woman to finish in the top three since Joan Benoit won gold in 1984. But the real shock was Keflezighi crossing the line second.
He entered the race as a relative unknown, but became the first American man to medal since Frank Shorter got silver in 1976. Keflezighi always knew he could do it though people counted him out.
"It's not a surprise to me, it's a surprise to other people," said Keflezighi, who was born in Eritrea but left the war-torn country and moved to San Diego when he was 12. "I missed a lot of parties, celebrations. Why? Because I had a dream to be the best I can."
Will other Americans become the best, too? Kenyans have swept the NYC Marathon the last two years, and always seem to dominate the distance events. Alberto Salazar was the last American man to win the NYC Marathon in 1982, and Miki Gorman was the last American woman to win it in 1977.
"It's going to take other positive performances," Kastor said. "It's going to take people stepping up their performances immediately, not saying maybe I can do that in four years. As long as we can keep people motivated and excited for the next year I think it's going to be a great year for U.S. distance running."
Dan Browne, who also ran in the Olympic marathon but finished 65th, already sees improvement because the quality of Americans competing in the longer distances has gone up. But he also thinks they need a good showing in New York.
"Hopefully we'll be able to really surprise some people here in New York City," Browne said. "I think that will reaffirm that hey, it wasn't just a shot in the dark for American running in general. When you raise the level of competitiveness in American in running it will tend to edge up into the world competition. That's what your seeing."
Kastor and Keflezighi know with winning comes added pressure, and that is just fine with them. Kastor will run the 5,000 and 10,000 next year and put the marathon on hold until 2006 because she wants to give her body a rest after running three in seven months.
But Keflezighi just wants to keep going, and next time he wants to win.
"Do I have pressure? Yeah, everybody's gunning for me and they know who I am," he said. "Before they were probably thinking who's this guy? But now they know who Meb is."
And Deena, too.
New York City Marathon Capsules
NEW YORK - Some top runners in Sunday's New York City Marathon, with age, country and race bib number:
MEB KEFLEZIGHI, 29, United States, 2 - Silver medalist at 2004 Olympics.... Seventh at 2003 Chicago Marathon.... Ninth at 2002 NYC Marathon.... American record holder at 10,000 and 20,000 meters.
CHRISTOPHER CHEBOIBOCH, 27, Kenya, 3 - Winner of 2004 Leipzig Marathon.... Third in 2003 NYC Marathon.... Second in New York and Boston in 2002. First in City-Pier Half-Marathon this year.... Owns a grocery store.
MICHAEL ROTICH, 22, Kenya, 5 - Making NYC Marathon debut.... Second at Rotterdam Marathon this year.... Won 2003 Paris Marathon and finished year ranked fifth.... Has same name as Kenyan 800-meter runner at 2004 Olympics.
OTTAVIO ANDRIANI, 30, Italy, 6 - Finished sixth in NYC Marathon last year and second in the Turin Marathon... Two-time European Championships Marathon competitor.... Ran personal best 2:09.07 in Milan in 2001.
TIMOTHY CHERIGAT, 27, Kenya, 8- Won Boston Marathon this year.... Last year, finished 11th in New York and fourth in Boston.... Ran a personal best 2:09.34 in 2002.
MARGARET OKAYO, 28, Kenya, F1 - Won 2003 NYC Marathon in a course-record 2:22.31. Also won New York in 2002.... Won 2004 London Marathon but had to drop out of the Olympic marathon with an injury.... Reigned as champion of New York and Boston Marathons in 2001-02, the first woman to do so since Uta Pippig in 1993-94.
DEENA KASTOR, 31, United States, F2 - Won bronze at 2003 Olympic marathon, becoming first American runner to win a medal in the event since Joan Benoit took gold in 1984.... Third in 2003 London Marathon.... Made marathon debut in New York in 2001, finishing seventh.
LORNAH KIPLAGAT, 30, Netherlands, F3 - Fifth in 2004 Olympics 10,000 meters.... Third in 2003 NYC Marathon.... Fourth at 2003 world championships in 10,000... A native of Kenya, she became a Dutch citizen last year after marrying her agent, Pieter Langerhorst.
BENITA JOHNSON, 25, Australia, F9 - Making marathon debut.... Reigning world cross country champion in 8K.... Finished 24th at Olympic 10,000 after being hampered with an injury.... Former member of Australia's junior international field hockey team.
PAULA RADCLIFFE, 30, Britain, F111 - World record-holder in 2:15.25.... Forced to withdraw from 2004 Olympics with an injury.... Won 2003 London Marathon.... Won Chicago and London marathons in 2002.... Won gold in 2001 and 2002 world cross country championships.
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