CAPE ELIZABETH – Although the field of elite runners includes four former champions with 11 titles between them, the 14th edition of the Beach to Beacon 10K road race Saturday almost certainly will have a pair of first-time winners.

Neither Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya — who set a course record for women last August — nor Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia is in town for a proper title defense.

Chepkurui, who missed the race the previous two years because of back and ankle injuries, has returned to the disabled list, this time with a hip problem. Gebremariam had planned to return to Cape Elizabeth with his wife and children, but his national federation strongly encouraged him to focus instead on the track and field world championships that begin at the end of August in Daegu, South Korea.

“What people have to understand,” said Larry Barthlow, who assembles the Beach to Beacon elite field each year, “is the world championships and the Olympics are like the World Cup for Ethiopia.

“As much as we would love to have him back here, there’s a lot of prestige and a lot of history, and it’s part of the national glory to win a medal for Ethiopia.”

Barthlow swatted mosquitoes as he spoke in the gathering dusk Wednesday near a bend in the second mile of the race course, across the street from the Rudy’s of the Cape restaurant. He remained on the street corner because he could get decent cell phone reception.

Earlier in the day, he took a bus to Boston to pick up a pair of Kenyan runners at Logan Airport, Lucas Rotich and Evans Cheruiyot. Cheruiyot is the 2008 Chicago Marathon champion who placed fourth in Cape Elizabeth five years ago. Rotich is only 21 but Barthlow’s pick to win Saturday.

Also in the men’s mix are last year’s runner-up, Alan Kiprono, as well as Lani Rutto and Micah Kogo. Kiprono and Rutto finished second and third last week in Iowa at the Bix 7-miler, and Kogo is a former 10K road racing world record holder (27:01) who also won Olympic bronze in Beijing at 10,000 meters.

To locals, the most recognizable of the Kenyan contingent are former Beach to Beacon champions Ed Muge (2008, 2009), Gilbert Okari (2003-2005) and James Koskei (2002). Muge, 28, placed fifth last year. Okari, 31, still holds the course record of 27:28. Koskei, 42, is after his third straight Masters title.

“Gilbert, I think, wants to put himself back on the world stage,” said the race founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson, who encountered Okari in Kenya earlier this year on a trip to visit her son, Anders, who was there for six months.

“He’s battled some injury problems (but) he was guardedly optimistic about where his training was.”

The elite women’s field includes five-time champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya as well as first-timer Deena Kastor, the woman who finally broke Samuelson’s 18-year-old American marathon record in 2003. But considering Ndereba is 39 and Kastor 38 and still returning to form after giving birth earlier this year, the race is likely to come down to a quartet of Africans: Aheza Kiros and Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia, Jelliah Tinega of Kenya and Diane Nukuri Johnson of Burundi. All are between the ages of 23 and 26.

Other women with a chance to win are a former Romanian national champion who recently became a U.S. citizen, 31-year-old Adriana Pirtea Nelson, and 32-year-old Australian Benita Willis, a two-time Olympian.

“I think the women’s race is up for grabs,” said Barthlow, who also invited three Japanese runners.

Samuelson met Nukuri Johnson and Tinega last week in Iowa. She called Johnson a “delightful young woman” and Tinega sweet and fast.

“She had a little bit of trouble with the heat,” Samuelson said of Tinega, 25, the Bix runner-up. “I think she wound up in the medical tent. So if she’s recovered, she could be right there.”

Samuelson also cautioned against discounting Rebecca Donohue, 35, of State College, Pa. She placed among the top six here in 2008 and 2009.

“It’s going to be,” Samuelson said, “an interesting women’s race.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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