European marathon champion Koen Naert will return to racing in the Bruges Half Marathon on 21 October.
This will be Naert’s first competitive appearance in Belgium this season and his first race of any description since winning European marathon gold in Berlin in a championship record time and lifetime best of 2:09:51.
Naert closed with a sizeable negative split on a warm and blustery morning in the German capital to defeat a line-up including Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham, the European half marathon champion in Amsterdam two years ago. He also became the first Belgian winner of this title after Karel Lismont's victory in 1971.
“I worked really hard in preparation, everything went very well - my body was ready, my mind was ready,” said Naert, who pulled away decisively in the last 10 kilometres to win by more than a minute. “Normally I’m never nervous but that’s a good sign; I turned the nerves into power and that’s what I showed.”
His coach Raymond Van Paemel reckoned his performance in Berlin would have translated to a 2:08 clocking in more benign conditions and he believes Naert can even surpass that mark.
"I always thought that the Belgian record of Vincent Rousseau [which stands at 2:07:20 from 1995] was not feasible but now I am not so sure,” he told knack.be after Naert’s title-winning run in Berlin.
Faster times might come in upcoming spring or autumn marathons but the shared goal over the next two seasons is the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Naert finished a creditable 22nd in only his third career marathon at the 2016 Olympics and Van Paemel believes he has the capability to leave his mark in Tokyo.
"He was very ambitious but I said that I wanted to work progressively with him, he listened and Sunday [at the European Championships in Berlin] was the apotheosis, but the main goal is and remains Tokyo. We've been working there for years, step by step. He can surprise you there," he said.
Naert will contest his next marathon in the spring (he is 99 percent sure he will run in the Rotterdam Marathon on 7 April) but before that, the Belgian has a busy racing season over the shorter distances to close out the calendar year.
After the Bruges Half Marathon, Naert will race in the famous Seven Hills Run 15K in Nijmegen - a five star certified road race by European Athletics Running for All - on 18 November as well as the Montferland Run 15K on 2 December.
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