By Diane Bell,
THE day after San Diego runner Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon this year, he a received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama, who ended, “We’ll be in touch.”
“I probably won’t hear from him,” said Keflezighi.
Not only did he hear back, he sat at the table with President and First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House dinner Tuesday.
The Obamas hosted Keflezighi and his wife, Yordanos, along with numerous African heads of state and diplomats following the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Lionel Richie entertained and other guests included actors Robert DeNiro and Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of “12 Years a Slave,” and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
Keflezighi moved to San Diego with his family at the age of 12 after being born in the war-torn African nation of Eritrea.
His name became a household word last April when he became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, one year after a terrorist bombing disrupted the 2013 race.
The invitation to Tuesday’s dinner arrived when Keflezighi and his family were on the road, visiting relatives and entering races. They hadn’t packed formal attire, so they had to stop and shop before arriving in Washington, D.C.
“Here comes the fast guy,” said Obama when Keflezighi arrived. The President inquired about his training regimen and asked how he and his wife had met. Keflezighi had visited the White House in 2000 and again in 2012 as an Olympic athlete, but he had never dined there. He met former President Jimmy Carter and former N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He posted a photo with Secretary of State John Kerry on his Facebook page.
“I bet John Kerry was so honored to be in your presence,” joked one of Keflezighi’s Facebook friends.
The experience was “awesome,” pronounced Keflezighi, who was seated next to South African President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, one chair away from Michelle Obama and the President. “I feel blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to be in the same room.”
He spoke informally with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power about a role as U.S. sports diplomat.