-- This year's elite women's field for the Boston Marathon includes three former champions and two Americans who could challenge for the win.
Below is a look at the top contenders.
THE DEFENDING CHAMP
Rita Jeptoo (Kenya), 2:19:57 PR (Chicago, 2013)
Jeptoo took some people by surprise last year, despite the fact that she had also won Boston in 2006. But nobody should be shocked if the 33-year-old repeats this year. Since her Boston victory, she lowered her PR to 2:19:57 while winning Chicago in October. In February, she ran a 1:08 half-marathon, which wasn't as fast as her tuneup half last year, but still an indication she should be ready to race on Monday.
THE CHAMP'S TRAINING PARTNER
Jemima Sumgong (Kenya), 2:20:48 PR (Chicago, 2013)
In 2013, Sumgong made a big jump up the PR ladder, going from 2:28 to 2:23 with her victory last April in Rotterdam. She then joined the super-elite crowd by finishing second in 2:20:48 at Chicago behind her training partner Jeptoo. Sumgong knows the Boston course -- she was second in the heat in 2012, losing by just two seconds. She is reported to have been stronger than Jeptoo in training for this year's Boston. If absolutely forced to predict a winner, we'd go with Sumgong.
Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia), 2:19:52 PR (Dubai, 2012)
Dibaba is the fastest woman in the field based on PR. She started 2014 by winning the Xiamen Marathon in China in 2:21. That victory, the first in her marathon career, was important because Boston crowns go not only to those who can run fast, but who also can figure out how to win against deep fields. Note that both Ethiopian women and men have prevailed at Boston in April after winning marathons in January.
Shalane Flanagan (USA), 2:25:38 PR (Olympic Marathon Trials, 2012)
No American woman has won Boston since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. Flanagan tried to change that last year and finished fourth in her first time on the Boston course. She returns not only wiser about the course, but also in great shape. In early March she ran a 47:03 to break the American record in a 15K. Look for Flanagan to run with the leaders as long as possible, and perhaps be more assertive after 30 kilometers than she was last year.
Sharon Cherop (Kenya), 2:22:28 PR (Berlin, 2013)
Cherop won Boston on a hot day in 2012, then placed third last year. She set her PR last September while finishing second in Berlin, so if she makes a move halfway through, her competitors will take it seriously.
Caroline Kilel (Kenya), 2:22:34 PR (Frankfurt, 2013)
Kilel's story is much like Cherop's: She's a former Boston champ (2011) who set her PR last fall. Despite a busy world-class career dating back to 2003, Kilel appears to still be on the upswing, and is dangerous in a sprint.
Buzunesh Deba (Ethiopia), 2:23:19 PR (New York City, 2011)
Deba boldly attacked the New York City course in November, building as much as a three-minute lead on a world-class chase pack before being run down by Priscah Jeptoo and finishing second. She has said she'll use the same tactics on Monday if the early miles are slow, which has been the case in recent years. Boston's course won't deter Deba, who has repeatedly run well on New York City's challenging course. Still, it's been more than a decade since Boston's women's race was won in a runaway.
Meselech Melkamu (Ethiopia), 2:21:01 PR (Frankfurt, 2012)
Melkamu ran her debut marathon in the fall of 2012, winning Frankfurt in a course record of 2:21:01. That remains by far the best performance of her short marathon career. She was second at Dubai in January (2:25:23). Melkamu came to the marathon after much success on the track (a world silver medal and 29:53 10K PR) and in cross country. Many runners with that background run their best marathon in their first or second rather than continuing to improve when they concentrate on the distance.
Desiree Linden (USA), 2:25:55 PR (Olympic trials, 2012; also 2:22:38 at point-to-point Boston in 2011)
Linden (then Desiree Davila) almost ended the American drought in 2011 when she finished second, two seconds behind Kilel. Linden returned to marathoning last fall in Berlin, running 2:29 after a long recovery from a stress fracture that knocked her out of the 2012 Olympic marathon. She spent much of the first part of 2014 training at altitude in Kenya, and has said her time there strengthened her both physically and mentally. Linden will run her own race early on, but also knows she has to keep the pack close, because she lacks the finishing speed of some of her competitors.
THE OTHER AMERICANS
Serena Burla, 2:28:01 PR (Amsterdam, 2013)
Look for a solid run by Burla. She set her PR in finishing second in October in Amsterdam. She also ran 2:28 in 2012. In January, she won the U.S. half-marathon title.
Adrianna Nelson, 2:28:52 (London, 2008)
Nelson almost won her debut marathon at Chicago in 2007 when running for Romania, but was unaware that Ethiopian Berhane Adere was closing on her and was caught off guard when Adere caught her yards before the finish. Since becoming an American in 2011, Nelson has won the 2013 national half-marathon title and was the top American finisher at November's New York City Marathon.