The second edition of the ONICO Gdynia Half Marathon on Sunday (19) will also be the first time the event has been an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race. Defending champion Hillary Maiyo and fellow Kenyan Stella Barsosio will be among the 6500 runners treading the streets of the Polish seaside town.
Maiyo won the inaugural edition in 2016 with 1:02:41, a time which remains the 23-year-old's personal best. The Kenyan will be vying to repeat his win as well as improve on his course record. He evidently enjoys racing on Polish soil, having won four different half marathons in the country. The latest of those victories came just last November in Koscian, where his time was 1:03:19.
The strongest opposition to the defending champion is expected to come from his compatriot Robert Mbithi. The experienced 27-year-old is the fastest man in the field with a best of 1:01:00, set in Rotterdam back in 2010. His more recent achievements include a win in Bath with 1:01:45 a year ago and, in his last appearance at the distance, a second place behind Maiyo in Koscian.
The third Kenyan on the start list, Bernard Matheka, might not have as much of a record of achievements in the half marathon, but with a best of 1:02:21 set in 2015, may be another man to watch out for.
Adding to the African challenge is Zelalem Mengistu, whose fastest half marathon also took place in Poland, at last year's race in Wroclaw, where he was the runner-up in 1:03:05.
Tomasz Grycko is the leading Polish entrant. The 24-year-old is yet to break 65 minutes at the distance, but is the national 10,000m champion.
The women’s race will include several runners who look capable of going faster than the course record of 1:13:19 set by Agnes Chebet in 2016.
Arguably the best among them is Stella Barsosio, a prolific runner, who, like Maiyo, has been racing regularly in Poland. Her fastest time of 1:12:18 was achieved when she won in Sobotka a year ago, and she ran faster than 73 minutes four times between August and October, including a victory in Warsaw in 1:12:27.
A second Kenyan, Christine Oigo, is another serious contender for top honours in Gdynia. The winner in Zagreb last year, she boasts a personal best of 1:12:41, not far behind that of Barsosio’s.
The Polish challenge will be led by Dominika Nowakowska, a World Championships finalist at 5000m in 2013. With a best of 1:12:37, set in Warsaw two years ago, the Pole is the second fastest in the field.
Not far behind her on paper is Agnieszka Gortel-Maciuk, with 1:12:52 from 2010. She will celebrate her 40th birthday the day after the race, but Gortel-Maciuk remains in good shape, with 1:15:10 for the half marathon and 2:33:19 for the marathon in 2016.
Fatiha Benchatki of Morocco is yet another potential challenger. Her fastest time of 1:14:49 may be inferior to her main competition, but the 32:41 she ran over 10km last month in Casablanca suggests that may be due for a revision.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF