Hayle Lemi Berhanu ahead of the 2015 Warsaw Marathon (© organisers)
Ethiopia’s sub-2:05 man Markos Geneti and Hayle Lemi Berhanu, the latter the fastest marathoner in the world this year, head the field at the Orlen Warsaw Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (26).
Four more men with bests below 2:08 have also entered the race, including arguably the top European runner of the last few year, Henryk Szost, who will attempt to give the Polish fans something to cheer.
The 30-year old Geneti has had a career strewn with success.
Prior to making a name for himself on the roads, he was a world youth champion over 3000m, IAAF World Junior Championships 5000m silver medallist and also took the 2004 IAAF World Indoor Championships 3000m bronze medal.
His personal bests include a 3:33.83 1500m and 13:00.25 5000m. However, since 2011, he has dedicated himself to the marathon, with considerable success.
His debut in Los Angeles ended with a win in 2:06:35. His second race, in Dubai in January of 2012, was even faster as he took the third place in 2:04:54. Since then, his races included a second-place finish in Dubai last year and a win in Hengshui in 2014 as well as two top-six finishes in Boston.
The race in the Polish capital will be his second marathon of the year, after a 2:07:25 sixth place in Tokyo in February.
Hayle Lemi Berhanu might not have the track record of Geneti, but the young Ethiopian burst into the world scene in spectacular fashion. After winning in Zurich on his marathon debut last year, the 21-year-old surprised many by taking a much bigger prize at the Dubai Marathon in January.
His win in 2:05:28 was a personal best by over five minutes and is currently the fastest time in the world this year.
Debebe Tolossa is yet another Ethiopian challenger in the race, with a best of 2:07:41, achieved when placing second in Houston in 2012, and he had a third-place finish in the same race this year.
Another of his countrymen, Dereje Debele, also has a sub-2:08 best from 2013, when he won in Dusseldorf, and can be counted among the favourites too.
No major marathon race can be complete without a strong Kenyan presence, and Warsaw is no exception.
The most significant of the Kenyan entries appears to be Elijah Kemboi. The 30-year-old has two career wins, in Antwerp and Kosice, both in 2011 and with identical times of 2:11:15. Since then, he has not been winning races, but has run under 2:08 in each of the last three years, with a best of 2:07:34 from Frankfurt in 2013.
Samuel Mwaniki may not be quite as well known, but has recently made a major breakthrough with 2:08:56 to take second place in Marrakech in January of this year.
One intriguing entry in the race is Robert Chemosin, making his marathon debut. The 26-year old Kenyan has been one of the world’s top half marathon runners in the last few years, with a best of 59:19 in 2013, and a win in Ostia this year with 59:37.
European and Asian challenge
Szost has been the most consistent European marathoner in the last few years, with five sub-2:10 performances in his career.
The best of them came in 2012, when he placed second in Otsu with a national record of 2:07:39. The same year, he was the top European in the Olympic Games marathon, where he placed ninth.
Szost also ran in both previous editions of the Orlen Warsaw Marathon and after failing to finish in 2013, he took third place last year in 2:08:55.
The other top runner from the Old Continent is Dmytro Baranovskyy, of Ukraine. His best of 2:07:15 is even faster than Szost’s, albeit dating from 2006 in Fukuoka.
The possibility of an Asian challenge is not to be ignored, either.
Kohei Matsumura, of Japan, has a best of 2:08:09 from Tokyo 2014 and is another danger man. His compatriot Chiharu Takada, with 2:10:03 in Fukuoka last December, isn’t too far behind either.
The fastest runner in the women’s field is an Ethiopian as well.
Fatuma Sado is only 23 years old but has a personal best of 2:25:39, with which won the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon, and she has victories as well in Hamburg 2011, Xiamen 2013 and Beijing 2014. Her career total of six sub-2:30 races includes a fifth place in Houston with 2:28:27 in January.
Another Ethiopian in the field has a sub-2:30 best. Bizuayehu Ehitu ran 2:29:52 to win in Sevilla in 2013, and has won four other marathons, including the race in Warsaw last year.
Kenya’s Mercy Kibarus may be the strongest challenger to the Ethiopian pair.
The winner in Venice in 2013 with 2:31:13, the 31-year old also finished fifth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last year and has a best of 1:08:18 at that distance.
The strongest domestic challenger should be Olga Kalendarova-Ochal, who has a best of 2:31:33 and finished third in the Warsaw race in 2013.
As many as 40,000 runners are expected to take part in the road running festival in Warsaw this weekend, with around 10,000 entered in third edition of the marathon.
With a new participation record already assured, the organisers are hoping the course records of 2:06:55 in the men’s race and 2:28:23 in the women’s will be reduced.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF