BOSTON — Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya, a three-time winner of the Boston Marathon, remarked as he reviewed entries for Monday's race: "What other race in the world, including the Olympics, can you run against eight other Kenyans?"
Where indeed? Boston's challenging and storied course annually attracts the best in the world, and in the men's marathon that inevitably means Africans.
Four of the last five winners have been from Africa and the favorites for Boston's 97th running are mostly from the continent that dominates middle-distance and distance running.
Hussein, the defending champion, knows the course and is always impeccably prepared. Countryman Benson Maysa was last year's world champion in the half marathon and a third Kenyan, Boniface Merande, was sixth at Boston last year in his first marathon.
Other contenders are David Tsebe of South Africa, whose time of 2 hours 8 minutes 7 seconds is the fastest among this year's entrants; Hiromi Taniguchi of Japan, the current world champion; and Tena Negere of Ethiopia, who was fifth-fastest in the world last year.
The women's race is packed. The sentimental favorite is Joan Benoit Samuelson, who has been in and out of the marathon scene since the birth of her second child and because of assorted injuries. This is the 10th anniversary of her Boston victory in 1983, when she won in 2:22:43, a world best at the time and still the fastest run by a woman in this event.
Samuelson has been training in the mountains of Vermont, working out in the mornings and skiing with her family in the afternoons. Samuelson's nearly obsessive dedication to the marathon has given way to a resolve to make fewer races count more.
"It comes down to balancing your life," she said. "I feel better with my balance now. I'll back off (training) if I feel like my quality time is not good enough with my kids."
Samuelson, winner of the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984, would not be considered a serious contender if not for her legendary mental toughness.
Olympic gold medalist Valentina Egorova of Russia will battle countrywoman Olga Markova, who is the defending champion. Joining them is Wanda Panfil of Poland, who was sixth last year.