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Maiyo defends Gdynia half marathon title

Hillary Maiyo winning the Gdynia Half Marathon (organisers)

GDYNIA, Poland, Mar 20 – Hillary Maiyo became a repeat winner at the second edition of the ONICO Gdynia Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday.

Runing in cold and breezy conditions on Poland’s Baltic coast, the Kenyan clocked 1:02:55, 14 seconds shy of the course record he set last year.

Zelalem Mengistu of Ethiopia and a second Kenyan, Bernard Matheka, were the other podium finishers.

In the women’s division, the difficult conditions did not prevent a fast race. The winner, Fatiha Benchatki of Morocco, knocked nearly a minute from the course record in 1:12:23, with Christine Oigo of Kenya also under the previous mark. Runa Skrove Falch of Norway finished third.

A leading group of three formed early on in the men’s race. Maiyo, Matheka and Mengistu started at a brisk pace, reaching the five-kilometre point in 14:37, with the Polish 10,000m champion Tomasz Grycko following 10 seconds behind.

As the leaders pushed the pace even harder, it only took another couple of kilometres to reduce the leading group to two. Mengistu and Maiyo continued to share the lead and reached 10 kilometres in 28:45, with Matheka seven seconds in arrears and Grycko 30 seconds further back.

As the wind and the cold took its toll on the runners in the second half, the pace slowed, but the battle at the front heated up. At one point Mengistu appeared eager to break away, but when the decisive move was made just before the 15-kilometre mark, it was by his Kenyan rival.

Once Maiyo took off, he never looked back and the lead just kept on growing. It was already 11 seconds one kilometre later and more than double that at the finish line.

Mengistu easily maintained second place, reaching the finish line in 1:03:21. Further back, Matheka took third in 1:04:23, with Grycko the top Pole in 1:05:20, a new personal best.

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-Two-woman race from the gun-

In the women’s race two athletes dominated almost from the start. Bechatki and Oigo built up a lead of half a minute by the time they reached five kilometres in 16:49.

The advantage grew to over a minute five kilometres later, where the clock read 33:12. They were followed by another pair running together, Falch of Norway and Betty Chepleting of Kenya, with the top Polish runner, Dominika Nowakowska, in fifth another 20 seconds back.

Things started heating up over the next several kilometres. Oigo took to the front around 15 kilometres into the race and at one point built up a lead of some 20 metres, but the Moroccan refused to be beaten. She gradually closed the gap and then moved past the Kenyan.

From then on, Benchatki’s lead grew steadily, and by the finish it was well over 100 metres where she broke the tape in 1:12:23, 56 seconds faster than the course record set by Agnes Chebet last year, and nearly two minutes faster than her previous personal best.

Oigo finished second in 1:12:49. Falch broke away from the rest of the field to take third comfortably with 1:14:14, the first sub-1:15 performance of her career.

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