BOSTON, MA, February 22, 2007�John Hancock Financial Services announced that defending Boston Marathon champions Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot and Rita Jeptoo will face an elite group of athletes with a depth of experience on the challenging course during the 111th running of the race on April 16.
The top contenders in the men's group include Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia, the men's 2005 champion, and several past runners-up.
Negussie will lead the charge having won the race in 2005, when he brought the title back to Ethiopia after a 16-year hiatus dominated by Kenyan wins. Accepting the opportunity to challenge Cheruiyot's course record of 2:07:14, Negussie said, �"Once again I am eager and happy to run in the Boston Marathon, among the greatest marathons in the world and my favorite place." One of his country's most promising marathoners, Negussie has also won the Hofu Marathon in Japan twice and the Xiamen International Marathon in China.
Joining Negussie on the John Hancock elite team are 2006 runner-up Benjamin Maiyo and 2004 runner-up Robert Cheboror, both of Kenya. Maiyo is highly motivated to notch his first career win at Boston this year having also finished second at the Chicago Marathon and second in Los Angeles in 2005. Cheboror will pose a threat returning to the race as one of the fastest marathoners of all time with a 2:06:23 win in Amsterdam in 2004. Last year he finished second in Hamburg and fifth in Chicago.
Another top contender with Boston experience is Stephen Kiogora who will challenge the runners-up as will 2005 Berlin Marathon Champion Philip Manyim. Kiogora recently finished second at the 2006 New York City Marathon and Manyim brings 2:07 speed to the line.
In the women's race, defending champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya will face 2006 Boston runner-up Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia who already announced her commitment to run and 2003 runner-up Lyubov Denisova of Russia.
Last year Prokopcuka missed the top spot by 10 seconds, the narrowest margin in race history. She has won the New York City Marathon the past two years and is the current leader of the World Marathon Majors Series. Denisova comes into the race fresh from a course record win at the difficult Honolulu Marathon this past December. She is also a two-time champion of the Los Angeles Marathon.
Top contenders expected to challenge these women are American record holder Deena Kastor who was announced earlier, and Madai Perez of Mexico. Kastor ran the fastest time in the world last year with her 2:19:36 London Marathon win, and Perez established her country's mark of 2:22:59 at the 2006 Chicago Marathon.
With such an elite group of the top contenders having experience on the Boston course, the women's and men's race should prove highly competitive this year. John Hancock, now in its 22nd year as the major sponsor of the Boston Marathon will announce its complete international elite team in March.
About John Hancock and Manulife Financial
John Hancock is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corporation, a leading Canadian-based financial services group serving millions of customers in 19 countries and territories worldwide. Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and Asia, and primarily through John Hancock in the United States, the Company offers clients a diverse range of financial protection products and wealth management services through its extensive network of employees, agents and distribution partners. Funds under management by Manulife Financial and its subsidiaries were Cdn$414 (US$355 billion) as at December 31, 2006.
Manulife Financial Corporation trades as �MFC' on the TSX, NYSE and PSE, and under �0945' on the SEHK. Manulife Financial can be found on the Internet at www.manulife.com.
The John Hancock unit, through its insurance companies, comprises one of the largest life insurers in the United States. John Hancock offers a broad range of financial products and services, including life insurance, fixed and variable annuities, mutual funds, 401(k) plans, long-term care insurance, college savings and other forms of business insurance.