Merima Mohammed wins the Houston Marathon (Victah Sailor) © Copyright
Preview Warsaw, Poland

Worku and Mohammed looking for fast return in Warsaw

Now in its fifth edition, the Orlen Warsaw Marathon taking place this Sunday (23 April) is once again poised to be the highlight of the Polish road racing circuit.

The history of this IAAF Silver Label Road Race may be a short one, but it has included world-class racing. The course records of 2:06:55 by Tadese Tola in 2014 and 2:26:25 by Fatuma Sado in 2015 are both the fastest marathons ever run on Polish soil.

The 2017 edition promises to be another high-quality race. Three men with sub-2:08 credentials will start, the fastest of them being Raji Assefa Worku of Ethiopia. On the women's side, the biggest star is Bahrain's Merima Mohammed.

Worku's greatest moment came in 2012 when he finished second at the Paris Marathon, clocking 2:06:24. Two years later, he also finished in runner-up position in Fukuoka with 2:08:48. An accomplished runner over shorter distances as well, Worku has a 1:00:07 best for the half marathon and finished 12th and 14th respectively at the 2007 and 2008 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

The race in Fukuoka 2014 was his most recent marathon, so the Ethiopian will be hoping for a successful comeback.

As ever, the race will also have a strong Kenyan presence. The fastest of the Rift Valley runners in the field is Felix Keny, a consistent runner with a PB of 2:07:14. He achieved that time while winning in Valencia in 2013, and has run faster than 2:08 on two other occasions, in Barcelona in 2010 and Seoul in 2012. His most recent top-quality performance was a win in Gunsan in 2015 with 2:09:05.

Philemon Baaru is only slightly slower on paper than his compatriot with the 2:07:49 he ran to take second in Kosice in 2012. Baaru's record also includes victories in Casablanca and Porto. In 2015, he was third in Milan with his second-best time of 2:09:08 and second in Casablanca.

Josphat Leting, another of the Kenyan contingent, has a best of 2:09:34 dating back to 2013, when he finished runner-up in Enschede. He recently came close, taking fourth in Rabat with 2:09:56 at the beginning of March this year. His other accomplishments include two wins in Munster as well as a third place in Hamburg.

Not to be forgotten is Alex Saekwo, a runner with an excellent competitive record, with wins in Verona, Turin and Lyon. The latter was his most recent triumph and fastest performance with 2:10:49 in 2016.

Last year's winner, Artur Kozlowski of Poland, will be hoping to hold his own against the African contingent. His surprising come-from-behind victory in 2016 also earned him a national title and a ticket to the Olympic Games. With the national championships once again held in conjunction with this race, Kozlowski starts as clear favourite for the title and may look at challenging his personal best of 2:10:58 set in Vienna in 2012.

Mohammed looking to regain past form

Merima Mohammed, the Ethiopian-born Bahraini, is the fastest woman in the field by some way. Her best of 2:23:06, set in Toronto in 2010, was set when she was only 18. She followed up with other successful marathons, among them wins in Dusseldorf and Houston, and three more sub-2:25 performances. However, she has not run faster than 2:30 since 2013, so it remains to be seen whether this could be a return to top form.

If Mohammed is not ready, Nastassia Ivanova of Belarus may be one of those challenging for top honours. With a best of 2:27:24 achieved in Dusseldorf in 2012, she is the second fastest on paper. Ivanova, an Olympian of two Games, had a good season last year, with top-three finishes in Lodz and Florence.

The second Belarusian athlete in the field, Maryna Damantsevich, has taken part in all editions of the Orlen Warsaw Marathon so far, placing second, third, fourth and third. Her PB was set in this race when she ran 2:30:07 in 2014.

Olga Kotovska of Ukraine has a best of 2:28:47, set while taking a win in Rennes in 2014, and recently ran 2:30:18 in Daegu, and thus should also be considered a contender.

Ensuring an African presence in the race, Muluhabt Tsega of Ethiopia is also a sub-2:30 runner, having run 2:29:17 in Beirut in 2014. Her 2:30:38 run in Osaka earlier this year suggests she has not lost form since then.

A potential Kenyan challenge in the race may come from Viola Jelagat. Although a relatively inexperienced marathon runner with a best of just 2:35:03, Jelagat is a quality half marathon specialist who has run faster than 1:10 on three occasions, and could be ready for a breakthrough.

From a Polish point of view, perhaps the most interesting entry is Dominika Nowakowska, the 2013 World Championships finalist at 5000m, making her marathon debut. With a half marathon best of 1:12:37 set two years ago, it remains to be seen whether Nowakowska is ready to take another step up in distance.

Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF