By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) announced the John Hancock Men’s Professional Athlete Team for the 126th Boston Marathon on Thursday, calling it the “fastest field ever assembled in race history.”

Twelve men with lifetime bests under 2:06 will line up for the race on April 18, led by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the second fastest marathoner in history. Returning to Boston six months after claiming victories at the 125th Boston Marathon in October are Kenya’s Benson Kipruto and Switzerland’s Marcel Hug.

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The Boston Marathon will be run on its traditional Patriots’ Day date for the first time since 2019.

“The world’s best athletes come to Boston every year aiming to join the family of Boston Marathon champions,” said B.A.A. President and CEO Tom Grilk. “This year we’re anticipating one of the best competitions in history as Olympic medalists, Boston Marathon champions, Abbott World Marathon Majors winners, and up-and-coming talents square off on the roads leading to the famed Boylston Street finish line.”

This will be the Boston debut for Bekele, the fastest man to ever toe the line in Hopkinton. His 2:01:41 Ethiopian national record ranks as the second fastest marathon in history and is just two seconds shy of the world record. Bekele owns three Olympic gold medals and 21 global championships titles across his illustrious career on the track and in cross country.

“I recognize the tradition of the Boston Marathon, the world’s most historic marathon, and look forward to racing in April,” said Bekele. “For many years Ethiopia has had a strong tradition in Boston, and I am excited to join that legacy. I have long looked forward to racing the Boston Marathon.”

Seven of the last eight open champions return aiming to break the tape again on Boylston Street, including Kipruto, the reigning winner from Kenya. Joining Kipruto are Boston champions Lawrence Cherono (2019), Yuki Kawauchi (2018), Geoffrey Kirui (2017), Lemi Berhanu (2016), and Lelisa Desisa (2013 & 2015). Berhanu finished runner-up in 2021, one second up on Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer, who is also entered.

“Being back in Boston as a champion is very exciting, but at the same time I feel the pressure and the responsibility to defend my title,” said Kipruto. “I really admire those athletes that managed to be multiple champions in big races. I really want to do my best to be one of them and I really hope to make my name among those Boston champions that people will remember for a long time.”

Among an accomplished group of Kenyan entrants are Titus Ekiru, the fastest marathoner in the world last year having run 2:02:57 in Milan; Evans Chebet, the world leader in 2020 (2:03:00); Albert Korir, the defending TCS New York City Marathon winner; and Geoffrey Kamworor, a two-time winner in New York and three-time World Athletics Half Marathon Champion.

Princeton, Mass.-native Colin Bennie earned top American honors last year and returns with hopes of improving upon his seventh-place finish. Joining Bennie among top American contenders are Team USA Olympic marathoners Jake Riley (Tokyo 2020) and Jared Ward (Rio 2016); 2019 Boston seventh-place finisher Scott Fauble; last year’s leader through 20 miles CJ Albertson; and B.A.A. High Performance Team members Jerrell Mock, Matt McDonald, Jonas Hampton, and Paul Hogan.

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“Knowing the incredible rush that you get turning onto Boylston in the top-10 of the race is such a powerful motivator,” said Bennie. “It’s the kind of thrill that I will be seeking throughout the rest of my career without a doubt. The confidence I gained from proving myself on a major stage like Boston helps me believe that I can achieve that again, but I know it’s going to be tough and I can’t wait for the challenge.”

Hug, a five-time Boston Marathon champion, world and course record holder, is seeking his sixth title in seven years, leading a professional wheelchair field which features five champions. Hug is coming off a year in which he won four Paralympic golds and took home the top prize in marathons in Boston, Berlin, London, and New York City and established a new world record of 1:17:47 in Oita.

“The Boston Marathon is a very famous, historic and iconic marathon,” said Hug. “I like the course and the atmosphere. If the conditions are good I am aiming for the course record this year.”

Hug is joined by 2019 winner Daniel Romanchuk, a Paralympic gold medalist at 400m for Team USA. Romanchuk was runner-up in Boston last year, one spot ahead of South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk, the 10-time Boston winner and most decorated athlete in race history, who will return for his 22nd Boston Marathon.

Each of the top 10 men’s wheelchair finishers from 2021 will take on the Hopkinton to Boston course again, including Team USA Paralympian Aaron Pike and 2012 winner Joshua Cassidy of Canada. A pair of international icons in Japan’s Masazumi Soejima and Britain’s David Weir will compete as well.

In the Para Athletics Divisions, T46 world record holder and Paralympic medalist Michael Roeger of Australia leads the way with a lifetime best of 2:18:53. He’ll be joined on the start line by 2016 Team USA Paralympian Chaz Davis (T12), who was the Para Athletics Division champion for the vision impairment division last year and holds the American record of 2:31:48. Rounding out the trio of world record holders in the Para Athletics Division is Marko Cheseto Lemtukei, a T62 double lower-limb impaired athlete who ran 2:35:55 at the New York City Marathon in November, just four weeks after running Boston.

“Boston holds a special place in my heart,” said Roeger. “I have the city tattooed on me, I broke my first track world record (1500m) in Boston in 2015, and to this day it is the best feeling I have got from running. But to be able to come back and run the Boston Marathon is special. It is the world’s oldest marathon and to be running on Patriots’ Day is pretty cool.”

The women’s professional field was announced on January 11. For the 37th year, John Hancock will serve as principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon will return to its traditional Patriots’ Day date for the first time in three years and will be accompanied by the return of the B.A.A. 5K on Saturday, April 16. Registration information for the B.A.A. 5K and professional athlete fields will be announced in the coming months.

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You can watch live coverage of the 126th Boston Marathon on WBZ-TV and CBS Boston.com on Monday April 18, 2022.

CBSBoston.com Staff