BOSTON, MA, February 13, 2008-In its 23rd year as the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon, John Hancock Financial announced their team of top women contenders for the 112th running of the race on April 21. Defending Boston Champion Lidiya Grigoryeva is set to compete against 2006 winner Rita Jeptoo, two-time runner-up Jelena Prokopcuka and a new generation of international talent.
The blend of athletes with experience on the course and those new to the challenges of the hilly Hopkinton to Boston route should lead to a highly competitive race. Collectively the group has won 18 international marathons in the past three years and the top nine contenders have less than a three-minute differential in their personal best times. In addition, the athletes will be vying for a top Boston showing to secure a position on their country’s Olympic teams.
Russian Lidiya Grigoryeva has the edge coming into the race as the defending champion. “Winning Boston last year is my proudest accomplishment,” says Grigoryeva. “The weather was terrible, but I was very happy to have won.” Grigoryeva is a two-time Olympian at 10,000 meters and hopes to compete in the marathon at the 2008 Olympics. She also earned a course record win at the 2006 Los Angeles Marathon and was champion at the 2005 Paris Marathon.
John Hancock also announced they have signed 2006 Boston Champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who returns to challenge for another title. Jeptoo says, “The Boston field is always one of the top ones, and this being an Olympic year means that all the top women in the major marathons need to perform well to be selected for their Olympic teams.” Jeptoo is also a past Milan Marathon and Stockholm Marathon winner.
Two-time runner-up Jelena Prokopcuka, the national record holder of Latvia, has much to prove at this year’s race. Although she has bested both Grigoryeva and Jeptoo during her two New York City wins, she finished behind Grigoryeva last year at Boston and in 2006 finished second to Jeptoo by 10 seconds, the closest 1-2 women’s finish in Boston history. A three-time Olympian, Prokopcuka holds additional national records on the road and track and was the second place finisher in the inaugural World Marathon Majors Series.
Challenging the trio are talented newcomers Askale Tafa Magarsa and Dire Tune, both of Ethiopia. Magarsa, only 23 years old, is the champion of the 2007 Paris and 2007 Dubai Marathons and the 2006 Milan Marathon. With a personal best of 2:23:23, she will be a strong contender, as will Tune, a 22-year old, who is a two-time winner and course record holder of the Houston Marathon (2007 and 2008) and champion of the 2006 Hong Kong Marathon.
Also debuting on the Boston course are Ukrainian national record holder Tetyana Kuzina-Hladyr, who in 2006 won in Rome and placed second in New York City, and 2007 Amsterdam Marathon winner and half marathon standout Magdaline Chemjor of Kenya.
Additional competition will come from returnees Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia, the winner of the 2007 Honolulu Marathon; Italian Olympian Bruna Genovese, a past winner of the Tokyo Women’s Marathon, and 21-year old Robe Tola Guta of Ethiopia, the 2006 Hamburg Marathon Champion and course record holder.
These top athletes will join the complete John Hancock elite team, which will be announced in March.
About John Hancock Financial and Manulife Financial Corporation John Hancock Financial is a unit of Manulife Financial Corporation (the Company), a leading Canadian-based financial services group serving millions of customers in 19 countries and territories worldwide. Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and in most of Asia, and primarily as 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$399.0 billion (US$400.5 billion) as at September 30, 2007. 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. Additional information about John Hancock may be found at www.johnhancock.com.