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John Hancock Financial Announces 2008 Boston Marathon Elite International Field

BOSTON, MA (March 12, 2008)—In its 23rd year as principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon, John Hancock Financial today announced its elite team of 31 marathon runners from eight countries set for the 112th running of the race on Monday, April 21.

Headlining the field are defending champions Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya and Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia.

Back to challenge Cheruiyot and Grigoryeva are past champions Rita Jeptoo, Timothy Cherigat and Margaret Okayo. Cheruiyot and Okayo are the current course record holders.

Also set to challenge the defending champion’s are last year’s second-place finishers Jelena Prokopcuka and James Kwambai.

The Men’s Field
Cheruiyot, the champion in 2003, 2006 and 2007, seeks to become the first Kenyan man to claim four Boston Marathon crowns. Cheruiyot also won Chicago in 2006, Milan in 2002 and was named the inaugural World Marathon Majors Series Champion.

Kwambai, a past marathon winner in Brescia and Beijing, shadowed Cheruiyot until mile 25 last year before the champion surged for the win. Cherigat, who won a tactical race in 2004, has five starts in Boston and the experience to secure another title.

Chasing the trio is a talented pack led by Patrick Ivuti of Kenya, the 2007 Chicago champion; Stephen Kiogora of Kenya, last year’s third place finisher; Gashaw Asfaw of Ethiopia, the 2006 Paris winner and Abderrahime Bouramdane of Morocco, the 2007 runner up in Seoul and Ottawa. Added to the mix are Christopher Cheboiboch, the 2007 Las Vegas winner; William Kiplagat, the 2007 Lake Biwa runner-up and 2:07 marathoner Shadrack Kiplagat. All three runners are from Kenya.

Young talent set for this world-class race includes 21-year-old Yirefu Birhanu of Ethiopia, the 2006 Baltimore winner and 23-year-old James Mwangi Macharia of Kenya, who finished second in Vienna in 2007 in his marathon debut.

Also expected to make an impact are Abdelhadi El Mouaziz of Morocco, who won his debut last year in San Sebastian; James Koskei of Kenya, the 2007 Dallas winner, and four time European Cross-Country Champion Paulo Guerra of Portugal. Rounding out the men’s field are Khalid El Boumlili of Morocco and Tariku Aboset, Kasime Adillo, Tesfaye Girma and Dejene Yirdaw, all of Ethiopia.

The Women’s Field
On the women’s side, with three champions in the field, a two-time runner-up, and a new generation of international talent, John Hancock’s elite team is a strong mix of experienced runners and rising stars.

Russian Lidiya Grigoryeva has the edge coming into the race as the defending champion. As a two-time Olympian at 10,000 meters she has the closing speed to win if the lead pack stays tight. She also set a course record at the 2006 Los Angeles Marathon and was champion at the 2005 Paris Marathon.

Challenging Grigoryeva is 2006 Boston Champion Rita Jeptoo and 2002 Champion Margaret Okayo, both of Kenya. Jeptoo returns to improve upon her fourth place finish in last year’s Nor’easter. Okayo holds the course record and the fastest time in the field at 2:20:43. Okayo is a two-time New York City and Rock ‘n’ Roll winner and past champion in London and Milan.

Two-time runner-up Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, also has much to prove at this year’s race. Although she bested both Grigoryeva and Jeptoo during her two New York City wins, she finished behind Grigoryeva last year in Boston and in 2006 finished second to Jeptoo.

Challenging the leaders are talented newcomers Askale Tafa Magarsa and Dire Tune, both of Ethiopia. Magarsa is the 2007 Paris, 2007 Dubai and 2006 Milan champion, and Tune won in Hong Kong in 2006 and set course records in Houston in 2007 and 2008.

Close on their heels and debuting on the Boston course are Ukrainian national record holder Tetyana Kuzina-Hladyr and 2007 Amsterdam winner Magdaline Chemjor of Kenya.

Additional competition will come from returnees Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia, the winner of the 2007 Honolulu Marathon; Italian Olympian Bruna Genovese, a past winner of the Tokyo Women’s Marathon, and 21-year-old Robe Tola Guta of Ethiopia, the 2006 Hamburg Marathon champion.

The blend of athletes with experience on the course and those new to the challenges of the hilly Hopkinton to Boston route should lead to a highly competitive men’s and women’s race.

A complete field list follows.
WOMEN’S OPEN FIELD
Name     Country     Personal Best Marathon
Margaret Okayo     Kenya     2:20:43 (Boston 2002) CR
Jelena Prokopcuka     Latvia     2:22:56 (Osaka 2005) NR
Askale Tafa Magarsa     Ethiopia     2:23:23 (Dubai 2008)
Rita Jeptoo     Kenya     2:23:38 (Boston 2006)
Robe Tola Guta     Ethiopia     2:24:35 (Hamburg 2006) CR
Dire Tune     Ethiopia     2:24:40 (Houston 2008) CR
Lidiya Grigoryeva     Russia     2:25:10 (Los Angeles 2006) CR
Alevtina Biktimirova     Russia     2:25:12 (Frankfurt 2005) CR
Bruna Genovese     Italy     2:25:28 (Boston 2006)
Tetyana Kuzina-Hladyr     Ukraine     2:25:44 (Rome 2006) NR
Magdaline Chemjor     Kenya     2:28:16 (Amsterdam 2007)

MEN’S OPEN FIELD
Name     Country     Personal Best Marathon
William Kiplagat     Kenya     2:06:50 (Amsterdam 1999)
Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot     Kenya     2:07:14 (Boston 2006) CR
Patrick Ivuti     Kenya     2:07:46 (Chicago 2005)
Shadrack Kiplagat     Kenya     2:07:53 (Amsterdam 2007)
Gashaw Asfaw     Ethiopia     2:08:03 (Paris 2006)
Christopher Cheboiboch     Kenya     2:08:17 (New York 2002)
Abderrahime Bouramdane     Morocco     2:08:20 (Seoul 2007)
Yirefu Birhanu     Ethiopia     2:09:01 (Seoul 2007)
Stephen Kiogora     Kenya     2:09:21 (Chicago 2004)
Timothy Cherigat     Kenya     2:09: 34 (San Sebastian 2002) CR
James Kwambai     Kenya     2:10:20 (Brescia 2006)
Kasime Adillo     Ethiopia     2:10:20 (Toronto 2007)
James Mwangi Macharia     Kenya     2:10:27 (Vienna 2007)
Khalid El Boumlili     Morocco     2:10:49 (Marrakesh 2004)
Paulo Guerra     Portugal     2:11:02 (Berlin 1998)