CAPE ELIZABETH — This could a banner year for the TD Beach to Beacon 10-kilometer road race.

Star-spangled banner year, that is.

Race organizers made strides toward stacking the field with a greater number of elite American distance runners. That mission has been accomplished, in the person of arguably the nation’s top three marathon runners.

Olympic medalists Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi were introduced Friday at the 16th annual pre-race news conference. So was Ryan Hall, who ran the first sub-2-hour, 5-minute men’s marathon in U.S. history at Boston in 2011.

They’ll lead a field of close to 6,500 when the starter’s pistol is fired at 8 a.m. Saturday.

“Every time I see Joanie (Joan Benoit Samuelson, race founder) and Dave (McGillivray, race director) at races, I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get out here and run Beach to Beacon.’ I’ve heard so much about it,” Hall said. “I love Maine and I love Joanie and Dave, so I’m happy to be part of this event. It’s unique and special.”

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No U.S. man or woman has won the Beach to Beacon.

Defending men’s champion Stanley Biwott was the 12th Kenyan winner on the men’s side in the past 13 years. Kenya has claimed eight women’s titles. Lineth Chepkurui, the 2010 winner and women’s course record holder, is entered.

Other past winners hailed from Ethiopia, Romania, Russia, Mexico, South Africa and Morocco.

Perhaps it speaks volumes that Benoit, now 56, and Frank Shorter, the 1970s icon who ran the Beach to Beacon a year ago, are the face of American distance running. Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar also made their mark in the sport decades ago.

Kastor, Keflezighi and Hall all are signs of a resurgence, however, for those with eyes to see.

Keflezighi won the Olympic men’s silver medal in 2004, the same year Kastor claimed bronze. More recently, Hall had three consecutive top-five finishes in the Boston Marathon, including an American record of 2:04.58 in 2011 that is considered unofficial because of a technicality in how the hilly Boston course is measured.

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“With Meb getting a medal in 2004 and Deana also getting a medal, and they were the only ones really close to getting medals in the distance races. Seeing them grab medals and having that goal as well definitely made me more interested in trying out a marathon,” said Hall, a two-time Olympian. “They were doing the thing that I wanted to do.”

Many international competitors gravitate to distance running at a younger age and encounter much deeper competition once they show up.

Consider the three Kenyan female co-favorites — Chepkurui, Linet Masai and Joyce Chepkirui.

Chepkurui already has won a 10K and a 12K this season. Masai was a world champion in 2009. And Chepkirui clocked a recent 10K time that is 21 seconds quicker than the Beach to Beacon course record.

Other top women in the field include 2011 winner Aheza Kiros, Sule Utura and Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia, Diane Nukuri-Johnson of Burundi and Gemma Steel of Great Britain.

“The competition is awesome, so I look to draw out the best in myself, and hopefully my best is a great performance,” Kastor said. “The biggest disappointment would be to walk away from this race knowing that my best wasn’t good. I’ve been training well and really trying to tap into something special every day when I have a hard workout back home, so I’m looking to execute a similar strategy when I’m racing (Saturday).”

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Kastor, 40, will depart Sunday for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

Hall, has won races in Maine before. The 30-year-old topped the field at the University of Maine’s Murray Keatinge Invitational when he was at Stanford. As a high school student, he competed in the Maine Distance Festival.

“Being a guy who doesn’t particularly enjoy running in the heat, I think Maine is about as good as you can get in the continental U.S. in the summertime,” Hall said. “I was looking at the weather before I came here and thinking, man, it’s going to be nice.”

To win, Hall would have to overcome the past two champions, Biwott and Micah Kogo, both of Kenya.

Kogo finished second in April’s ill-fated Boston Marathon — his first attempt at that distance. He’s also an Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters.

Adding to the depth of the Kenyan delegation are 2011 London Marathon winner Emmanuel Mutai, Silas Kipruto and Stephen Kipkosgei-Kibet.

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Ethiopians Atsedu Tsegay and Dino Sefir of Ethiopia and Mykola Labovsky of Ukraine also are expected to challenge.
 
“It’s not only going to be Sweet 16, it’s going to be a strong 16,” Benoit said of the race’s anniversary. “If the weather forecast is correct, I think we’re going to see records out there.”
 
Partly sunny conditions and seasonable temperatures are expected.
 
There should be a terrific battle for Maine bragging rights, as well.

Sheri Piers of Falmouth is the two-time defending state women’s champion. Erica Jesseman of Scarborough may have the best chance to end that streak.

Among Maine men, Rob Gomez of Saco won the L.L. Bean 10K in July and ran under 2:23 in the Boston Marathon. Leading his competition are Riley Masters of Veazie, Johnny Wilson of Falmouth, Matt Rand of Cape Elizabeth and Will Geoghegan of Brunswick.

A record 6,117 runners finished the 2012 race, and that should be broken Saturday. The field includes runners from 39 states and 16 nations.

“I always wonder if we didn’t have a field size limit, how many people would enter this race,” McGillivray said. “Would it be 10,000? 20,000? I don’t know. It’s amazing the interest in our sport.”

Posted awards total more than $60,000, including $10,000 to each winner. There is a $2,500 bonus for a course record in either of the open categories.

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