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Kenya's Cheruiyot seeking fifth Boston Marathon

BOSTON (Reuters) - Defending champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot will seek a fifth Boston Marathon title on Monday against tough competition from his Kenyan countrymen and from the fastest U.S. marathoner.

Kenyan Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot crosses the finish line to win the men's division of the 110th Boston Marathon in an unofficial course record time in Boston, Massachusetts in this file photo from April 17, 2006. Cheruiyot finished in an unofficial time of 2:07:14. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The lanky 30-year-old, who set Boston’s course record of two hours, seven minutes and 14 seconds in 2006, will also strive to become the first Kenyan to claim five victories on a course dominated by the African country’s athletes since 1991.

“My training has been going well but nothing is very simple or easy,” he told reporters on Friday.

Twenty-six year-old U.S. Olympian Ryan Hall, whose London finishes ensured he was the fastest U.S. marathoner in 2008 and 2007, will make his Boston debut with a personal best of two hours, six minutes and 17 seconds.

Another 26-year-old in Kenyan Evans Cheruiyot could emerge to spoil the party for his name-sake at the $806,000 event, the runner’s personal best nearly a minute faster than Robert Cheruiyot’s Boston record.

A third Kenyan, 20-year-old Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, won at Frankfurt in 2008, just seconds off the Boston record.

The three Kenyans are not related.

Top U.S. runners have long avoided Boston’s gruelling hills and fickle weather to compete on London’s flatter course for bigger prizes. A U.S. winner would end a quarter century title drought.

“The huge story in Boston this year is that two top American runners will be here and that they have a chance to do very well and possibly even win this race,” said Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World magazine and winner of the 1968 Boston race.

The other local contender is Kara Goucher, a 30-year-old Olympian making her Boston debut after finishing third in November’s New York City Marathon.

“I’m keeping my eye on a few women and any one of them could beat me. But I can also beat any one of them,” she said.

She will face stiff competition from Ethiopian holder Dire Tune and 2007 champion, Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia.

Four-times Boston champion and local favorite Bill Rodgers will run for the first time in a decade.

“I hope to do it in under four hours,” said the 61-year-old, whose best time at Boston was two hours, nine minutes and 27 seconds in 1979.

Overcast skies and temperatures around 49 degrees Fahrenheit (9.4 degrees Celsius) are forecast for the race on Monday.

Editing by Jason Szep and Ian Ransom