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Korir, Cherop in good company

Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop, both of Kenya, are back to defend their 2012 Boston Marathon wins. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

African athletes will make up the bulk of the elite field for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, among them defending champions Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop, both of Kenya.

Other top African stars include Kenyans Levy Matebo, Dickson Chumba, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and Micah Kogo (debut) for the men, and Rita Jeptoo for the women. The Ethiopian men will be led by Gebre Gebremariam, Markos Geneti, Shami Abdullah Dawit and Raji Assefa. Meseret Hailu Debele and Mamitu Daska will lead the women. African men have won in Boston the past 11 years; African women have won the last five.

Two of Europe's top women, Ana Dulce Felix of Portugal and Sabrina Mockenhaupt of Germany, will compete in Boston for the first time. The last European woman to win the race was Lydia Grigoryeva of Russia, in 2007.

American Ryan Hall, who was fourth in the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2:04:58, the fastest marathon time ever run by an American, withdrew last month because of a quadriceps strain. Moses Mosop, who ran 2:03:06 at his debut marathon in Boston in 2011, has pulled out of the race because of a calf injury

Hartmann ramps up his training

Jason Hartmann will return to Boston with something more to prove.

The 31-year-old American had a disappointing performance at the 2012 Olympic Trials last January, finishing 32nd. But he rebounded a few months later by placing fourth at the Boston Marathon.

It was the best finish for any American.

Hartmann planned to run the ING New York City Marathon last fall before organizers canceled the race in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In March, he competed in his first race since then, the New York City Half-Marathon, placing ninth.

The 6-foot-3 Hartmann said before the NYC Half that his 2012 experience in Boston was "definitely life changing."

He hopes to earn a spot on the podium this year.

"I've done more mileage this time around," Hartmann told Runners World. "I've added some cross-training. ... And I'm doing about 10 more miles a week than I've previously done. I'm varying between 130 and 135 miles a week."

Merga added to elite field

Deriba Merga, 2009 Boston Marathon champion, was a late addition to the 2013 edition of the race and will compete on the John Hancock Elite Athlete Team. The Ethiopian finished third a year after winning the title, and at the 2008 Olympics he placed fourth in the marathon.

Last year, Merga recorded a second-place result in the ING New York City Half-Marathon with a time of 59 minutes, 48 seconds. He has broken the one-hour mark eight times during his career.

Merga's personal best in the marathon is 2:06:38, and he enters Boston having run two half-marathons this season, Houston (second place) and Paris (fourth).

Samuelson in the field again

Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the 1979 and 1983 editions of the world's oldest modern marathon, will return to the race this year. She also won the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in 1984.

When Samuelson ran the 1983 race, she set a world record of 2 hours, 22 minutes and 53 seconds. Also taking part will be previous American champions Greg Meyer and Amby Burfoot.

Competitor.com contributed to this report.