Felix Kimutai wins the Orlen Warsaw Marathon (Organisers) © Copyright
Preview Warsaw, Poland

Defending champions face tough opposition in Warsaw

Defending Orlen Warsaw Marathon champions Felix Kimutai of Kenya and Nastassia Ivanova of Belarus will be back to defend their titles at the IAAF Silver Label road race on Sunday (22). But, with deep elite fields in both the men's and women's races, it is hard to make them – or any of the other runners – the firm favourites.

At the previous five editions, the race has consistently proven to be Poland's top marathon. The course records of 2:06:55 by Tadese Tola from 2014 and 2:26:25 by Fatuma Sado from 2015 are both Polish all-comers' records.

This year's edition promises more excitement, with a startlist featuring a strong African contingent and many of Poland's top marathoners.

Kimutai's victory last year came as something of a surprise and his 2:10:34 from that race remains his fastest marathon to date. He has, however, shown good consistency, with four consecutive podium finishes in the past two years – most recently a second place in Buenos Aires last autumn – and remains one of the names to watch out for.

Five other men in the field have faster PBs, and the fastest of them all is Seboka Dibaba with 2:06:17 from Dubai in 2012. The same year, the Ethiopian took the most significant victory of his career in Dusseldorf. He has had a string of quality performances since then, with two more sub-2:08 runs, and podium placings in major races, including Paris, Seoul and Toronto. The latest of those came in May of last year, when he finished second in Ottawa.

Lani Rutto of Kenya, runner-up in Frankfurt in 2015 with 2:06:34, is only slightly slower on paper. His performance from Frankfurt remains his only sub-2:10 to date, but he has raced well on other occasions, with his record including seventh-place finishes in both Chicago and Rotterdam.

Compatriot Ezekiel Omullo has arguably even more going for him, with two prior victories with fast times in Warsaw, although both came at the PZU Warsaw Marathon, an autumn race – 2:09:19 in 2015 and 2:08:55 in 2016, the latter his fastest marathon to date. He came close to his best last year in Vienna, with 2:09:10 good enough for third place.

With a best of 2:10:32 from Dresden in 2016, as well as a 1:00:32 half marathon, run last year in Berlin, Vincent Torotich is another strong Kenyan in the field.

Two more possible challengers come from Ethiopia. Herpasa Negasa has run 2:10:17 twice – when second in Lyon in 2015 and taking fourth place in Mumbai the following year. Regasa Mindaye has a best of 2:10:51, achieved when he took sixth place in Vienna a year ago.

The Polish runners cannot be overlooked either. As in prior years, the Orlen Warsaw Marathon doubles as the men's national marathon championships, and many of the country's top runners will be in attendance.

Artur Kozlowski remains the only Polish winner in the history of the race, with a come-from-behind victory in 2016, when he ran 2:11:54. He repeated as national champion last year, when he took third place in the race in 2:12:38. His best remains the 2:10:58 he ran back in 2012 in Vienna.

His main challenger for the national title this time appears to be Yared Shegumo, the 2014 European Championships silver medallist. This will be Shegumo's first outing in this race, although he won the 2013 PZU Warsaw Marathon in 2:10:34, the fastest time of his career.

Arkadiusz Gardzielewski's best of 2:11:34 dates back to 2012, but he showed he is in form this year, setting a half marathon PB of 1:03:17 in Verona and may also challenge for the national title.

On the women's side, Nastassia Ivanova, last year's winner in 2:28:44, will be making a bid to become the first ever repeat winner of the race. Her PB of 2:27:24 from Dusseldorf 2012 makes her only the third fastest entrant, but the Olympian recently showed good form at the World Half Marathon Championships with a PB of 1:12:15.

The fastest PB of the field belongs to Philes Ongori of Kenya, who ran 2:23:22 in Boston in 2014, as well as 2:24:20 to take the win in Rotterdam in 2011. She has had a taste of championship success, too, taking silver at the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, and earlier represented her country on the track at the 2007 World Championships.

Azmera Abreha of Ethiopia does not have the same amount of experience, having emerged as a top-class runner only in the past two years, but her two recent marathon have been of high quality: third place in Amsterdam last autumn in 2:25:23, followed by 2:28:12 in Dubai in January.

Her compatriot Ayelu Abebe is another strong challenger, with two sub-2:30 races last year in China, the faster of which was a 2:29:17 win in Wuxi.

With a best of 2:29:50 from Nagoya in 2016, Bekelech Daba, the third Ethiopian in the field, is only slightly slower than her teammates.

Ayantu Gemechu, the winner of the Warsaw Half Marathon last year in 1:10:26, will also make a bid in what will be her second marathon after third place in Rennes last October in 2:30:38.

Nataliya Lehonkova, a 36-year-old from Ukraine, has been improving steadily in recent seasons. It was in her last marathon, in Dublin last autumn, that she broke 2:30 for the first time, scoring a victory in 2:28:58. With an excellent competitive record, including victories in Santa Monica in 2016 and another one in Dublin in 2015, Lehonkova may be ready for more success in the Polish capital.

There is no national title on the line in the women's race, but Izabela Trzaskalska will be hoping to make the Polish presence felt at the top end. Trzaskalska surprised last year by taking second place in 2:29:56, a personal best by more than five minutes, and went on to place 23rd at the World Championships in London.

Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF