Blazej Brzezinski wasn’t expected to challenge for top honours at the PZU Warsaw Marathon, nor was he even predicted to be the top Polish finisher, but the 30-year-old ran a well-judged race to win the IAAF Bronze Label event in a PB of 2:11:26.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s Bekelu Beji capitalised on the misfortune of Recho Kosgei to win the women’s race. The Kenyan, having built up a comfortable leading margin, collapsed in the final stages as Beji went on to win in 2:35:08.
In the men’s race, the real racing began in the second half. A large group had covered the first 10 kilometres in 31:01 and eight of them were still in the lead pack at the half-way point, which was reached in 1:05:11.
Just a few kilometres later, the pack had been whittled down to five men: Brzezinski and Kenyan quartet Paul Kangogo, Silas Kipngetich, Justus Kiprotich and Japhet Kosgei. After they passed 30 kilometres in 1:33:10, Kipngetich and Kiprotich broke up the lead pack and forged ahead on their own. By 35 kilometres, Brzezinski trailed the Kenyan pair by 13 seconds and looked to be slipping out of contention.
The Pole soon recovered, though, and reeled in his opponents, while Kipngetich then dropped back, leaving Brzezinski and Kiprotich as the two remaining contenders. The duo were still together at 40 kilometres, reached in 2:04:45, then Brzezinski began his long drive for home with Kiprotich unable to respond.
Brzezinski crossed the line a comfortable winner in 2:11:26, taking 51 seconds off the PB he set when finishing 11th at the 2013 Berlin Marathon – which, coincidentally, was on the same day as that year’s Warsaw Marathon. Poland’s Yared Shegumo, the winner in Warsaw on that occasion, went on to take the silver medal at the following year’s European Championships, and Brzezinski has now set himself a similar target.
“Today everything was perfect for me: the route, the fans, the rainy weather and, most importantly, my form,” said Brzezinski after taking the first marathon victory of his career, having previously contested 14 other races over the classic distance. “I achieved everything I wanted to: victory, a PB and the qualifying standard for the European Championships – what more could I ask for?
“Since Yared made it on to the podium at the European Championships following his success in Warsaw, I’m now making that my goal for next year.
“I had a bit of a crisis at about 30 kilometres, but that kind of thing happens to many competitors and it’s why they say the real racing begins after 30 kilometres,” added Brzezinski, who is coached by 1982 New York Marathon champion Ryszard Marczak. “But after the 35th kilometre, I felt more confident in my chances of winning.”
Kiprotich held on for second place in 2:11:51 with Kipngetich taking third in 2:13:30.
Pre-race favourite Recho Kosgei looked to be on course for victory in the women’s race before disaster struck in the closing stages, collapsing to the ground with the finish line in sight and allowing Ethiopia’s Bekelu Beji to take the victory.
After just 10 kilometres, three clear contenders had emerged with Beji, Kosgei and Habtewold passing through that checkpoint in 35:00, 28 seconds clear of the rest of the field.
They maintained that tempo through to the half-way point, which was reached in 1:13:46 and suggested that the course record of 2:29:32 could be under threat.
The trio ran together for another few kilometres, but Habtwewold soon began to struggle with the pace and dropped behind, leaving Kosgei and Beji out in front.
In the final quarter of the race, Kosgei made a move and looked to be on her way to victory, having built up a three-minute lead over Beji with just two kilometres remaining. But with just half a mile to go and the finish line in distant view, her legs suddenly gave way and Kosgei crashed to the ground with 2:30:00 on the clock.
Two-and-a-half minutes passed before a runner from the mass race stopped to try to help Kosgei stand. Beji was close behind and ran past the struggling Kosgei before going on to win in 2:35:08.
Kenya’s Beatrice Cherop came through to take second place in 2:36:12. Despite being a debutante at the marathon distance, Poland’s Ewa Jagielska timed her race to perfection and, having been more than five minutes down on the leaders at half way, came through to finish third in 2:41:49.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF