Victor Kipchirchir winning the 2016 Valencia Marathon (© organisers)
Kenya’s Victor Kipchirchir and Pauline Njeru, the course record-holders for the PZU Warsaw Half Marathon, head the elite fields of the IAAF Bronze Label road race on Sunday (25).
For the past few years, the Polish capital has played host to the country's largest half marathon. Now in its 13th edition, the Warsaw Half Marathon is set for a new participation record with more than 16,000 entrants.
This race has also consistently proven to be the best in Poland in terms of quality. The course records of 1:00:48 for the men and 1:09:06 for the women are both Polish all-comers’ records. And with both record-holders back in action this year, these times may come under threat.
Kipchirchir set the current record in winning the 2014 edition. The following year, he finished fourth in what was his last outing in the race. With 59:31 from the Hague in 2012, Kipchirchir is the only man in the field who has bettered the one-hour barrier.
The Kenyan has concentrated on the full marathon distance in recent years with substantial success, including a victory in Valencia in 2016 with a personal best of 2:07:39 and 2:08:52 in Seoul last year. It remains to be seen whether his first half marathon in nearly two years will produce a performance of similar quality.
Should Kipchirchir falter, compatriot Ezrah Sang appears to be the man most likely to rise to the top. With a 1:00:36 best, set when finishing second in Venlo in 2012, Sang is the second fastest in the field. A string of consistent results, including three more sub-1:02 races, makes him one of the top favourites in his first ever race on Polish soil.
Hillary Maiyo, in contrast, is a familiar figure to Polish road running fans, with six half marathon victories in the country in the past year alone. He is, however, yet to score a podium finish in the PZU Warsaw Half Marathon, in which he finished fifth in 2016 and fourth in 2017. On the latter occasion he ran 1:01:44, which was his personal best at the time, although he has since improved to 1:01:05 when finishing third in Krems last autumn.
Maiyo is coming to Warsaw straight off a fifth-place finish in Gdynia last weekend and will no doubt be eager to improve on that result.
Kassa Megashaw is another possible contender. The Ethiopian has a strong track background, with a 27:38.93 best at 10,000m and has only run one half marathon to date. That race, however, was a win in Niigata with a time of 1:01:16, demonstrating Megashaw may have great potential over the distance.
Zouhair Talbi of Morocco, winner in Seville this year and with a 1:02:00 best, is yet another of the possible candidates for a top position, as is Lesotho’s Suttoali Khoarahlima, who ran 1:02:04 last year in Port Elizabeth.
Japan’s Yuki Yagi, whose best is 1:01:37, and the USA’s Fernando Cabado, with a best of 1:02:00, are also in the field.
Polish hopes will rest with Blazej Brzezinski, winner of the Warsaw Marathon last autumn with a personal best of 2:11:27, who also ran 2:12:43 last month in Oita. Brzezinski's fastest half marathon to date was 1:03:49, going back to the 2015 race in Ostia.
Njeru, like her fellow course record-holder Kipchirchir, is returning to Warsaw after several years. Since her victory in 2014, she has assembled an excellent competitive record, winning half marathon races across the world, including Birmingham, Marrakech and Madrid.
She also finished on the podium in each of the past three editions of the Paris Half Marathon, and it was in the French capital on 4 March this year that she finally beat the personal best she had set while taking the win in Warsaw four years ago. Her 1:08:20 from that race makes her one of the 20 fastest women in the world this year and a strong favourite for top honours this weekend.
The next fastest among the entrants is Birhan Mihretu of Ethiopia, just 20 years old, but already with a 1:10:00 to her name. She ran that time to finish seventh in Valencia last year, in what is her only half marathon result so far.
Christine Oigo is coming to Warsaw straight off of a victory in Gdynia last weekend, showing she is also a force to be reckoned with. The Kenyan finished third in the Polish capital in 2017 with 1:11:50 and went even faster in Podgorica with 1:11:32 to score a victory, one of four to her name last year.
Joyce Kiplimo set her best of 1:10:24 in 2013 when she finished runner-up in Udine. While she has no half marathon results since then, her more recent form over shorter distances, including 32:39 personal best at 10km in Hamburg last year, suggests she is capable of challenging the top women.
Lilian Jelagat of Kenya bettered 1:11 twice last year, first with a 1:10:59 third-place finish at altitude in Eldoret, then with 1:10:43 when taking second place in Dronten.
Agnes Chebet, whose best of 1:12:09 was set while winning the 2014 Szczecin Half Marathon, completes the Kenyan contingent. Despite never having raced in Warsaw, Chebet has a wealth of experience on Polish roads, her resume also including second place in Krakow in 2015 and a win in Gdynia the following year.
Of the Poles in the race, the strongest challenge should come from Olga Ochal, seventh in last year's edition, with a best of 1:12:47, dating back to 2012.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF