Some 36,000 athletes, including Kenyan and Ethiopian runners who are consistently ranked among the world's fastest, will run in the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday, putting the world-renown race back in the spotlight after it was marred by last year's bombing attack.
Returning men's and women's champions Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya are among the top-ranked runners expected to compete in the 26.2 mile race.
But each faces a rival with a faster personal-best time: Dennis Kimetto of Kenya ran last year's Chicago Marathon in 2:03:45 and Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba turned in a 2:19:52 performance at the 2012 Dubois marathon.
No American athlete has stood atop the podium on Boston's Boylston Street, not far from the site of last year's bombing, since 1985 when Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach of Michigan won the women's race. The drought has been longer for U.S. men: Greg Meyer of Massachusetts won in 1983.
But there are several U.S. hopefuls in the field, including Ryan Hall of California, who placed third in 2009 and Desiree Linden, who missed winning by just two seconds in 2011.
Race organizers expanded the field by some 9,000 runners this year, to allow the roughly 5,000 athletes who had been left on the course last year when the twin pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finish line another chance to compete.
Amateur runners often work for years to post the strict age-graded times needed to qualify for the elite race.
Three people died and 264 were injured last year when a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers bombed the finish line, prosecutors contend.