John Lotiang of Kenya and Ayantu Gemechu of Ethiopia were the runaway winners at the PZU Warsaw Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday (26).
On a clear but cold day (the temperature at the start was 4C), Lotiang ran solo for some two-thirds of the race to win in a time of 1:01:11, missing the course record by 23 seconds. Masresha Bisetegn and Mesfin Alemu of Ethiopia took the other podium places, half a minute behind the winner.
The podium placings were reversed in the women's race, with Ethiopia taking the win and Kenya the other places in the top three. Ayantu Gemechu triumphed with 1:10:26, more than a minute clear of pre-race favourite Peninah Arusei and her countrywoman Christine Oigo.
A leading pack of seven, composed exclusively of Kenyans and Ethiopians and including all the top favourites, formed early in the men’s race. The group started at a brisk pace, reaching the five-kilometre point in 14:08.
That situation did not last long, however. Only a few more minutes into the race, Lotiang made a significant move and ran away from the group with a surprising burst of speed. By the time he reached 10 kilometres at 28:24, he had built up a lead of 16 seconds. At this point, the followers were his countrymen Justus Kangogo, Hillary Maiyo and Dominic Musyimi plus Alemu and Bisetegn.
After the attack, Lotiang settled into a steady pace, and while his lead did not grow over the next several kilometres, neither did it shrink significantly. At 15km, his split was 43:10 and the advantage over the chasing group 14 seconds. By that point, the group was down to four, with only Musyimi losing contact.
Surprisingly, the next runner to get dropped was the pre-race favourite and fastest man in the field, Justus Kangogo. The remaining three pushed on together, but to no avail. Lotiang continued looking behind his shoulder, but the distance between the leader and the chasers was now growing again.
It stayed that way until the finish. With the last kilometres run uphill, the pace slowed somewhat, putting an end to the hopes of a course record, but nonetheless, Lotiang maintained a solid pace and broke the tape in 1:01:11.
The battle for the remaining podium places continued until the end. Ultimately, it was the unheralded Bisetegn who came through to take second in 1:01:39, with Alemu and Maiyo just three and five seconds behind him, respectively.
Kangogo and Musyimi followed in places five and six, while in seventh it was Yared Shegumo, the top Polish finisher, with 1:03:43, missing his personal best by just one second.
The women's race began in much the same way as the men's, with an all-African group of seven in the lead in the early kilometres. The pace, however, was relatively more modest at 16:27 for the initial five kilometres.
The pack started to break up just before the 10-kilometre mark as Ayantu Gemechu of Ethiopia and Peninah Arusei of Kenya reached that point together in 33:14. Two more Kenyans, Christine Oigo and Helen Musyoka, as well as Asmerawork Bekele Wolkeba of Ethiopia were only a few seconds behind.
The gaps, however, became significant shortly after. And it was the relatively less accomplished Gemechu who gradually dropped Arusei over the next five-kilometre stretch. At 15 kilometres, the Ethiopian was timed in 50:03, now a full 11 seconds ahead, with Arusei just four seconds in front of Oigo.
The order of the top three did not change over the remainder of the race, only the differences continued to increase. Gemechu reached the finish in a personal best of 1:10:26, more than a minute ahead of her rivals.
Arusei and Oigo completed the top three with times of 1:11:31 and 1:11:49, and it was another gap of more than one minute behind them to Musyoka, the fourth placer.
Just as in the men's race, the top Pole, Olga Ochal, finished seventh, with 1:14:03, her fastest time in more than five years.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF