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No clear favorites for Boston Marathon in Olympic year

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Remembering the Boston Marathon tragedy

When Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa returns to the Boston Marathon starting line on Monday he will race for his third title but a clutch of fast competitors, including two other previous winners, make for an evenly matched field with no clear favorite.

Desisa has raced in only nine marathons and won three, including victories in Boston last year and in 2013 when a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line, killing three people and injuring about 260.

Known as a tactical racer with an ability to sprint at the end, Desisa posted a personal best of 2:04:45 in Dubai in 2013 and won Boston in 2:09:17 last year.

"Everyone comes here to win but with God's help I will win again. My training has been better than it was last year," Desisa said on Friday.

Fellow Ethiopian Lemi Berhanu Hayle, who notched a personal best of 2:04:33 in Dubai in January, has a similarly strong record, having run just five marathons and won three.

Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai enters the race with the fastest personal time of 2:03:02, a course record he set with his 2011 Boston win. Kenyan Wesley Korir whose personal best is 2:06:13 is returning for a fourth time after having won in 2012.

Kenyan Stephen Chebogut, who won Eindhoven in 2:05:52 last year when he took two minutes off his personal best, is also considered a strong contender.

PHOTOS FROM LAST YEAR'S BOSTON MARATHON:

27 PHOTOS
Boston Marathon 2015
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No clear favorites for Boston Marathon in Olympic year
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Elite men leave the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. of the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Caroline Rotich of Kenya celebrates after winning the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopa celebrates after winning the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: (L-R) Caroline Rotich of Kenya, Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia, and Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia run during the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Caroline Rotich of Kenya celebrates after winning the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Caroline Rotich of Kenya, left, and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia race down Boylston Street during the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Rotich won the marathon with a time of 2:24:55. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopa (L) and Caroline Rotich of Kenya celebrate after winning the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopa celebrates after winning the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Blaise Brennan, of Millersville, Maryland gets a souvenir photo at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. before the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Elite women leave the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. of the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Runners roam the Athlete's Village at the Athlete's Village at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. before the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: A group from Wayzata, Minnesota takes a souvenir picture in the Athlete's Village at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. before the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Race security personnel gather in the drizzle at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. of the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Globe staff / Bill Greene)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Police patrol the starting area in Boston Common before the B.A.A. 5k on April 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Runners gather in Boston Common before the B.A.A. 5k on April 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Police patrol the starting line before the B.A.A. 5k on April 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Ben True of the United States wins the B.A.A. 5k on April 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 15: On the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, survivors Jeff Bauman, left, and Patrick Downes, right, threw out ceremonial first pitches before the game. The Boston Red Sox hosted the Washington Nationals in an MLB regular season baseball game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Rich Vaillant, of Shrewsbury, gets a nap in under the tent in the Athlete's Village at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. before the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: A banner hangs near the finish line before the start of the running of the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Information booth volunteers dance in place to Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' to stay warm, before the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. Left to right are Tom Regan, wife Judi Regan and Jen Brooks. The 119th Boston Marathon is run on Monday, April 20, 2015. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WELLESLEY, MA - APRIL 20: Wellesley College student Maria Castano gets the scream tunnel ready. Getting ready for the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WELLESLEY, MA - APRIL 20: Ashley Wilson, 16, even with a torn ACL, is a volunteer spotter along the route. Getting ready for the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: People have their bags checked at a checkpoint along Commonwealth Avenue as the Boston Marathon prepares to get underway April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. This is the 119th running of the Boston Marathon. Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Men's wheelchair division leave the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. of the the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOPKINTON, MA - APRIL 20: Runners stay warm with foil blankets under a tent at the Athlete's Village at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. before the 119th Boston Marathon. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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"On the men's and women's sides there are no clear favorites with evenly matched fields, which increases the chances that it will come down to the last mile or two," said Scott Douglas, senior content editor for Runner's World.

While most top U.S. marathoners are sitting Boston out after February's Olympic trials, Kenyan and Ethiopian officials have yet to pick their teams and will consider results from Boston and London, coming up on April 24, in making their rosters.

Meb Keflezighi, who became the first American to win Boston in more than three decades when he scored an emotional victory in 2014 on the first anniversary of the bombings, said he could not let Boston interfere with his preparation for the Olympic marathon in August.

"I'd like to be running here but I have to hold back for Rio," he said.

The men and women's winners will receive $150,000 from a total $830,500 purse and some 30,000 people plan to participate in the race's 120th running.

On the women's side Kenyan Caroline Rotich will try to defend last year's crown but is likely to face pressure from Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana, who won gold at the 2012 Olympics and boasts the fastest time with a personal best of 2:18:58.

American Neely Spence Gracey marks her marathon debut in Boston with personal connections. Twenty-six years ago she was born on race day as her father, Olympian Steve Spence, was running the course.

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